Mary Baldwin College, Staunton VA 24401
by Prof. Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
(Protected by the copyright laws of the United States. Exclusively for use by students of Mary Baldwin College enrolled in PolS 249. Not for citation, quotation or other use without the expressed written permission of the author.)
El Salvador was not a significant object of interest by the U.S. Government prior to the Cold War. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, American power cast a long shadow over the independence of other neighboring and Central American states such as Nicaragua (ten U.S. military interventions), Honduras (seven U.S. military interventions), Panama (twelve interventions), Mexico (fourteen interventions) and Cuba (eight interventions). But, prior to the Cold War, not one single U.S. intervention was visited onto the Pacific coastal state of El Salvador (Congressional Record 1969: S6955-6958). The diplomatic post at San Salvador was an insignificant cul-de-sac leading nowhere for careerists in the State Department. After the stakes in Interamerican relations were redefined to make stopping Communism the defining purpose of U.S. foreign policy, the U.S. Government acquired a new interest in an El Salvador that previously had interested only American coffee and banana merchants.
Formal U.S. commitment to El Salvador's security preceded extensive U.S. involvement. Early in the Cold War era (1947-1991), the United States made a defense commitment to each of the nations in the Western Hemisphere, through the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, or Rio Treaty of 1947. Military aid began in the 1960s, and economic and technical assistance also mounted as time passed. By the late 1970s several Central American nations, especially Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador, were the sites of great political violence stimulated in part by support for local guerrillas provided by Communist powers. In the 1980s, the United States attempted to strengthen its Central American ally El Salvador by granting unprecedented amounts of economic and military aid to this small nation. This policy proved to be the largest and longest lasting of the many anti-Communist projects of the US in the Americas: as late as 1992 over 50 US military advisors still served in El Salvador. Indeed, stopping communism in El Salvador would prove to be the largest project of this type in the entire period after the end of the Vietnam war (1975). As was the case in Vietnam, 1955-1975, US officials attempted to develop a counterinsurgency strategy to assist Salvadorans in resisting a guerrilla insurgency: US-assisted reforms were joined to a series of military measures to make up this overall strategy. Land reforms, legal reforms, and political changes to institutionalize democracy were the key elements in the plan to stop communism in El Salvador. By the turn of the century, the Salvadoran-American project seemed to have realized many of its goals. A peace agreement (1992) had been inked; all organized fighting groups had suspended operations; three straight elected presidents had transferred power to elected successors without incident; and a wider social reconciliation appeared to be within reach. However, high levels of violence still pervade Salvadoran society, poverty remains the daily challenge of fully half the population, and political elites remain divided over how much true power to permit the political party of the left, which finished first in a 2000 parliamentary election.
This reading recounts the major elements of this political transformation, and notes the continuing obstacles to its complete success. First, the socioeconomic context of Salvadoran politics is described. Second, the origins of the armed uprising of guerrilla revolutionaries are depicted. Third, the roles of the Roman Catholic Church and of the criminal justice system in the Salvadoran political maze are described, primarily through recounting the difficult case of the 1980 assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. Fourth, the major political actors and problems of the 1980s and 1990s are described. Fifth, the dimensions of US assistance to pro-U.S. politicians and armed forces there are reviewed. Finally, contemporary progress toward lasting peace in El Salvador is discussed.
II. The Socioeconomic Setting of Salvadoran Politics.
As the reader of any American newspaper during the decade of the 1980s scarcely could have failed to notice, Salvador's politics once were a violent and grim chapter in the Second Cold War. That violence ended, but it had marked and twisted Salvadoran political culture: one study released nearly a decade after the civil war ended reported that seventeen Salvadorans a day die violent deaths (LACCAR 1999: 4), a stunning statistic in a country of only six million (World Bank 2000: 230). Whereas a communist-linked insurgency racked the country, 1978-92, and U.S. aid poured in to assist governments committed to stopping these insurgents, by the new millennium Salvadoran and U.S. officials cooperated in regional anti-drug efforts. But the political party linked to those guerrillas today is the largest in the Salvadoran national legislature, and it sharply objects to the the U.S. anti-drug presence. Thus, some patterns are unbroken. If politics remains polarized and the American presence serves to reinforce that division, so too is the depth of social division also unbridged. Massacres of large numbers of civilians in the 1970s and 1980s have gone unpunished; murders of government officials and of ordained clerics that repeatedly shocked our consciences have never been fully resolved. One legacy is broader than the limits of this small nation: Salvador's political violence contributed new meanings to words which speakers of the English language had known before, but were forced to redefine in the 1980s: death squads, "disappearances," massacres and more. Violence once littered the Salvadoran countryside and even the capital city with its human flotsam. Civil society descended to the depths of a true civil war, family against family, neighbor on neighbor. In this section of our reading we will explore why this legacy has been so hard to overcome despite nearly a decade of peace.
El Salvador remains a desperately poor country. Its GNP per capita ($1850 in 1998; World Bank 2000: 230) is barely higher than Guatemala's (i.e., $1640); and is markedly lower than that of major Latin American states, e.g. Brazil ($4570), Mexico ($3970) or Argentina ($8970). But per capita figures tend to overstate available resources accessible to typical poor families. A September 2000 study released by the University of Central America (LACCAR 2000a: 4) found 49.74 percent of Salvadorans still living in poverty: 3 million individuals; and found more than 1.3 million living in extreme poverty. For more than a half century, social strain due in large measure to the poverty has festered and grown in all of Central America, despite eras of war and peace. It is now clear that in El Salvador, governmental structures throughout most of this century routinely have ignored basic social problems. What are these basic social problems? Most grow out of intense competition for scarce resources in this poor country.
El Salvador has been a coffee exporting economy since that crop replaced indigo as the prime export around the turn of the century. In these nine decades, export agriculture has expanded primarily at the expense of peasants' small farm plots. Less than 2 percent of the population owns more than 60 percent of the land (including most of the coffee plantations) and controls the nation's productive capacity, while the poorest 20 percent own no land and receive only 2 percent of the national income (Seligson: 1). This displacement of rural producers contributed to migrations to the cities, urban overcrowding, environmental degradation (both urban and rural), and when combined with rapid population growth, by the 1960s had made a highly competitive situation nearly intolerable for many Salvadorans. Many indicators convey dimensions of this social powder keg.
Demographic Problems. One root problem is demographic. Salvador's population has more than doubled in the last three decades, expanding from 2.5 million (1961), to 3.5 million (1971), to 4.9 million in 1986 (Europa 1988: 970) and 5.5 million in 1992 (Seligson: 3), and 6 million today (World Bank 2000: 230). Since El Salvador is the smallest Central American state, a rapidly growing population has meant that El Salvador's population density of 265 persons per sq km (686 per sq mi) is the highest in Central America. For comparison, it is nearly three times as crowded as Guatemala (89.9 persons per sq km; 232.7 per sq mi); and Nicaragua is only one tenth as crowded, 26.2 persons per sq km (67.9 per sq mi). Moreover, the distribution of the population is, like its neighbors, to a great extent packed into cities: 44 percent urban, 56 percent rural (1990). The average growth rate of the population, 2.2 percent in 1992, promises no quick end to the crowding. This rapid growth rate represents only a small decline from the population explosion in the years leading to the start of the civil war in 1978-79: 2.9 percent yearly population increase (1960-70) and the hopeless 3.3 percent yearly increase (1970-1979). Efforts to stem the rapid reproduction of Salvadorans through birth control programs clearly have been only partially successful: in the mid 1980s less than half (48 percent) of married women used birth control, up from 34 percent a decade earlier. At the same time, improvements in medical delivery systems have meant that the average Salvadoran could expect to live longer, until age 75 for women and 68 for men (1992), up from a life expectancy of only 50 years in 1960. Similarly, infant mortality in 1992 had fallen to a relatively low 26 per 1,000 live births, a decline from 120 per thousand (1965). Similarly, child mortality for children ages one through four also have declined, from 23 per thousand (1960) to 11 per thousand (1992). Thus, Salvadoran society has been crowded with children needing services (e.g., schools, clinics), and young people seeking jobs, all at the same time a new cohort of aging Salvadorans presented policy makers with additional claimants for state services.
Public Health Problems. Public health delivery systems greatly expanded and improved in quality over the last several decades, but the effect of population growth has been to continue the difficulties that some Salvadorans had long found in getting access to these crowded services. Medical doctors were much more accessible in the early 1990s (one per 1563 citizens) than in 1960 (one per 5260 citizens). But the effects of civil war, along with the preference many Salvadoran doctors showed toward treating only those patients who could afford to pay, meant that for many Salvadoran families' medical treatment --especially preventive medical care-- remained inaccessible even as the medical care delivery system improved overall. Those who have taken their medical services to remote rural areas --areas once infested with communist guerrillas-- frequently found themselves targeted for violence by those opposed to the guerrillas. As recently as August 1989, foreign medical workers Dr. Nathan Kamliot, a Frenchman; and nurse Beatriz Colapietro, a Brazilian, for example, were expelled by the government for having been accused of guerrilla sympathies (LAWR 1989c: 12). While most (i.e., 89 percent) urban residents now have access to safe water, the overall situation in the country --which is largely rural-- still provides little impediment to water borne diseases: only 53 percent of the population overall had access to safe water in 1995 (World Bank 2000: 242, 232). This figure is virtually identical to the situation in 1982, at the height of the civil war.
Education. El Salvador spends less of its GNP on education today, 2.2 percent (World Bank 2000: 178) than it did in 1960 (3.9 percent of GNP). The survival of greater numbers of children has placed pressure on already underfinanced systems, especially schools. While eighty percent of Salvadoran primary school aged children found slots in schools in 1960, by 1984 a lesser portion, 70 percent were enrolled. Better performances were recorded by more advanced levels of schooling: secondary school participation rose from 13 percent of the eligible age cohort (1960) to 24 percent in 1985; post secondary enrollment also grew, from one percent to 12 percent of the relevant populations. These figures, read another way, show that 3 in 10 youngsters, 7 in 10 teens, and three fourths of young adults until very recently were not in school. Of course, the educational aspects of the workplace are not always to be discounted. But for most young Salvadorans jobs weren't readily available: the streets proved to be their teachers. Thus, in the 1990s and the new millennium, the Salvadoran work force and society confronted the problematic reality of large numbers of virtually uneducated young people older than traditional school ages. Funds for adult education simply have not been available.
Urbanization. Meanwhile, the steady migration of Salvadorans to ever more crowded cities has continued. While more than six in ten employed workers were in the agricultural sector in 1960, by the early 1990s barely four in ten (43 percent) so worked. Not just absence of opportunity, but rural warfare, of course, drove this migration forward. Nevertheless, the decline in the agricultural work force's size has coincided with the emergence of other social problems. Subsistence foodstuffs no longer are produced in substantial enough quantities to feed the people and El Salvador, which as late as 1975 still required only a paltry 4000 metric Tons of food aid from the outside world, by 1984-85 found it necessary to import nearly 200,000 metric Tons of food aid. (Figures above are from World Bank 1981, 1984, and 1989). Continued dependence on food aid has clouded Salvadoran development throughout the 1990s.
Access to food. This long term trend toward dependence on international charity has grown from several causes: population growth, the impact of civil war, the effect of several devastating earthquakes, and the expansion of land uses for export agricultural crops (e.g., coffee, beef) at the expense of the use of land to grow food. This latter issue requires special attention, for to a large degree, El Salvador remains a coffee economy. While coffee acreage expanded most quickly in the 1960 to 1975 era, no significant reversion of coffee plantations to food crops occurred once governments claiming to be committed to land reform took power after 1979; and the Salvadoran Supreme Court on July 28, 1989 ruled that governmental attempts to nationalize the coffee producing lands were illegal (Woodward: 327). Total coffee production in the late 1980s was virtually identical to that of the last year before the civil war began in earnest (1978); coffee exports actually increased, 1983 to 1986 (Europa: 974). Coffee export earnings in 1988 represented nearly two thirds of all export earnings for the nation (LAWR 1989a: 8). To a great extent, coffee lands have been exempted from the land reforms. Similarly, the total census of cattle in El Salvador --which to a great extent are produced to be exported as meat-- remained steady throughout the 1980s. Both of these indicators can be read to signify little diminution of the leading role of traditional export agriculture in rural El Salvador in the 1980s. The only notable exception to this trend of continued reliance on a virtual coffee monoculture is a 70 percent increase in shrimp exports since 1979, but this innovation also illustrates a classic pattern of dependence on foreign, not domestic, markets (LAWR 1989: 8). Shrimps are virtually unknown in the Salvadoran diet but now are produced strictly in response to demand elsewhere. The years of peace of the 1990s have had little impact on these trends; i.e., the agricultural sector of the Salvadoran economy (8 percent of GDP in 1994) then produced 26.6 percent of the nation's export earnings (LAWR 1994a: 333), a situation largely unaltered in the ensuing years. Thus, food products have continued to play a role in the enrichment of one class of Salvadorans, while many hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans barely survive on foods donated by international relief organizations.
This odd situation is compounded by other factors related to the provision of services related to public health. Due to lack of access to safe water, intestinal diseases run rampant, contributing to public health problems exacerbated by lack of food, calories, vitamins and protein. These problems most acutely are manifest in rural areas and in urban shantytowns, and have been addressed by governments only to a small degree. From 1980 until 1989, for example, Christian Democrat and Christian Democrat-linked governments did attempt a land reform program, but with very mixed results. At the time the land reform was begun, two percent of the population owned 60 percent of the land, while 70 percent of farm families made do on "minifundias" amounting to 11 percent of the land area. Marginal gains have been made and some lands were transferred to the peasantry. According to the US State Department (1997a) "[a]t least 525,000 people--more than 12% of El Salvador's population at the time and perhaps 25% of the rural poor--benefited from agrarian reform, and more than 22% of El Salvador's total farmland was transferred to those who previously worked the land but did not own it. But when agrarian reform ended in 1990, about 150,000 landless families still had not benefited from the reform actions." However, after the election of conservative Alfredo Cristiani and his ARENA party to head the government in 1989, and under his two elected successors who also were ARENA conservatives, most movement toward more ambitious land reform stalled. While transfers of land to former combatants (i.e., guerrillas and Salvadoran Army veterans) forms a key provision of the 1992 Peace Agreement President Cristiani siigned with the guerrillas, little actual land was transfered to either the poor, the former guerrillas, or to Army veterans. This impasse has continued during the administrations of his conservative successors, Armando Calderon Sol (1994-1999) and Francisco Flores (1999- ). According to the US State Department, the Calderon Sol administration "strongly opposed to new land expropriations." Some 12,000 voluntary transfers of land titles to ex-combatants have occured in the 1990s, "financed through the U.S.- assisted Land Bank and the Salvadoran Institutefor Land Transformation," (DOS 1997a) but these efforts have not effected most Salvadorans.
In the late 1970s and throughout the entire 1980s, while civil war aggravated all of these existing social problems, it battered the economy leaving problems that have had further impact on Salvadoran society. As Seligson has summarized "[b]etween 1980 and 1990 it is estimated that civil war caused nearly $2 billion in damage to the nation's factories, plantations, and infrastructure, while per capita income declined about one-third." Racked by war and intermittent strikes by labor activists, even those who did not themselves suffer war casualties found themselves to be economic casualties as Salvador's economy spun downward during those war years. The Gross Domestic Product fell in three years: down 8.4 percent in 1981; down 5.7 percent in 1982; and down 0.5 percent in 1986; and showed very hesitant growth in the other years (up 0.6 percent in 1983, and 1.4 percent in each of 1984 and 1985). The net result of a damaged, contracting economy was heightened misery for the poor in particular. Per capita income fell throughout the decade of the 1980s. Inflation averaged about 13 percent in the early part of the decade, but grew to over 30 percent a year after 1985 (all figures above from LARR:M/CA 1987: 4). In the 1990s this force of continuing erosion in purchasing power only gradually was tamed as warfare ended. The inflation rate of 24 percent (1990) fell to 14.5 percent (1991), 19.4 percent (1992), 12.1 percent (1993) and 9.7 percent in 1994 (LAWR 1994a: 594), a level where it remained through the turn of the century.
The condition of the nation of El Salvador as the first decade of the new millennium unfolds is to great degree dependent on its trade and aid relationship with the United States. Trade with the US continues to dominate El Salvador's economy. In war and in peace, the US has remained far and away Salvador's biggest trading partner, and in some respects that centrality has grown in the 1990s. In a typical year in the middle of its civil war, total annual worldwide exports by El Salvador were $1.017 billion (1985), of which $362 million --35.6 percent-- went to the US (IMF 1988: 170-171). In 1995, Salvador exported items of a value of $1.162 billion, of which $766 million --65 percent-- went to the US. A greater degree of diversification in trade has occured in regard to the source of Salvador's imports. During the war the total value of the volume of imports in one typical year was $669 million (1987); of this 1987 total of imports, $428 million --or nearly two thirds of all imports that year-- came from the US (IMF 1988: 170-171). By the mid 1990s, total imports had grown to $3.04 billion (1995), of which a bit more than a third, $1.22 billion, came from the US (IMF 1996: 253-254). Significantly, Salvador in 1995 had a negative trade balance of nearly two billion dollars, the largest protion of which was with the US.
Some features of Salvador's dependence on the US have changed fundamentally. In early 1990, US aid to El Salvador amounted to $1.4 million per day (Farah 1990a: 31); but as early as 1993, aid from all sources (i.e., U.S. and multilateral) had fallen to $382 million (World Bank 1995: 180). The end of the Cold War global system has meant fewer aid dollars from all sources for states like El Salvador. Yet, the legacy of that era of close US ties continues to profoundly shape Salvadoran institutions, as is indicated by, for example, the fact that as late as 1990, the Salvadoran National Intelligence Directorate shared the same building as the American CIA's headquarters in San Salvador (Farah 1990b: p. 18)! It has been very difficult for some in El Salvador to adjust to the post-Cold War reality in which the US has found fewer strategic reasons to extend foreign aid to all of the Third World, its battle grounds and its former battle grounds alike. Total U.S. foreign aid to El Salvador in the 1990s has followed a generally downward trend: $186.9 million in fiscal 1991; 142.7 million in fiscal 1992; 198 million in fiscal 1993; and about $82 million was the most ever granted under the Clinton Administration, in fiscal 1994 (CQWR 1992: 1714; CQWR 1993: 2569; DOS 1997a). Other steps have been taken to assist El Salvador, however. In December 1992, for example, the U.S. Government reduced bilateral debt with El Salvador by 75% --from $617 million to $151 million-- underprovisions of the Enterprise for the Americas Initiative (DOS 1997a). Moreover, in July 2000, El Salvador (along with Guatemala and Honduras) signed a free trade agreement with Mexico which could increase the opportunities for Salvadoran exports to reach the U.S. market more easily, due to Mexico's free trade status with the U.S. under the terms of the NAFTA treaty (LACCAR 2000b: 4)
To sum up, contemporary social problems are but the extension of longstanding problems in Salvador's development: inadequate diets, insufficient public services, poverty, lack of access to land, and lack of access to educational opportunities. Desperation more than politics probably lies at the root of most of the more than 9000 murders in El Salvador in one recent year (1994); and the drop in violence from about 25 killings a day in 1995 (LARR/CCAR 1995a: 2) to about 17 a day in 1999 (LACCAR 1999: 4) is hardly progress enough to crow about! Democratic governments in the 1990s have professed to have remediation of these problems among their goals; but the problems have endured into the new millennium.
III. The 1979 Military Coup
Roots of the Coup. It is useful to chart the life cycle of social and governmental efforts to overcome Salvador's inadequacies prior to the 1990s; in this comparative way we may better view the systemic features of Salvadoran reality. It was, after all, in response to inter-related social problems in the 1970s, that peasant movements of that era organized to press for land reform. Other Catholic activists formed Christian "basic communities," designed to build self-sufficiency of peasants joined together to implement a "Liberation Theology"-guided reform agenda.1
But, nonviolent as nearly all of these efforts were, all came to be menaced by the specter of "death squads," violent armed men who targeted reformers of all stripes. An early indication of the repression to come occurred during protests against the 1975 "Miss Universe Pageant," an opulent gala through which the military government of Col. Armando Molina sought to show a placid El Salvador to the world. Peaceful protests outside the hall --unnoted by "Your host Bob Barker" or the Western media-- were met with a hail of Army bullets: 37 perished (CA Report: 1). By 1978, many in the reform movements and communities were driven by this sort of repressive violence to make difficult choices. Would they succumb to the repression and abandon their reform efforts, would they emigrate to more calm venue (e.g., the US), or would they transform their movements into forces capable of physically overcoming the prevailing violence?
From 1932 to the late 1970s, generals had dominated the Salvadoran political system. Political events in the late 1970s would alter the political system of El Salvador: civil war would erupt from the breakdown of the extant system, a dictatorship which had reigned through a deceptive form of pseudo democracy. Between the 1930s and 1979, conservative export ranchers had allied with generals who ran this oppressive and undemocratic Salvadoran political system. Elections were won not by polling the most ballots, but by pleasing the right military factions prior to the ostensible ballotings. This was democracy enough for El Salvador to remain in good standing on the US side of the Cold War. Throughout the entire era after 1960, the US usually could be relied upon to support these "elected"generals, but during the US Carter Administration, 1977-1981, both the internal and the international aspects of this coalition collapsed.
The Coup of 1979. The key event in this process of change, indeed the starting point for any real analysis of recent El Salvadoran history, was the military coup of October 15, 1979. Thereafter, reform-oriented elements in the military, or the "soft" right, presented their plan to ally with democratic civilian politicians as the most viable alternative to continued grinding repression as a solution to the social crisis of the country. Thereafter, US policy makers generally backed this faction and this strategy.
At the time of the 1979 coup, more traditional groups within the military (and beyond) opposed this reformist orientation. Rejecting any reform strategy to stop revolution, the "hard" right struggled both to organize a superior countervailing power to that of the guerrillas and struggled to contain the practical political power of the "soft" right. The reformist military coup of 1979 had changed civil-military relations, stimulating a schism within the military. It brought civilian moderates into open support for a military government for the first time, and it divided the officer corps over the question of cooperating with these civilians. In the first years after this change, the reformist elements of the military did not truly hold complete power over the recalcitrant factions. Eventually, however, civilian Jose Napoleon Duarte, a leader of the Christian Democrat Party once tortured and then exiled by the Army after he was robbed of a 1972 election to the presidency, guided this coalition of civilians and "soft" line military reformers to policies consistent with the original "reformist" claims.
The transition toward a new regime, one based on reform and supported by moderates in both civilian and military institutions, was not painless nor was it uniform. Indeed, much as it had divided the military, so responses to the 1979 coup divided the civilian reform movement. Unlike Duarte, many other civilian moderates --e.g., Duarte's own 1974 Vice Presidential running mate Social Democrat Guillermo Ungo; Christian Democrat activist Ruben Zamora-- joined the 1979 reform junta only for a short time. Both men soon quit to take up the cause of political advocacy of the cause of the armed men of the revolutionary left (from the safe exile of Mexico City). Displeased over continued repression in 1980, many non-Communists followed the lead of Education Minister Salvador Samayoa, and left the government to directly participate in the guerrilla forces. This process of defection from "above ground" politics to the politics of the gun added legitimacy to the growing revolutionary movement. Thus, the coup of 1979 set in motion both the new orientation of the state, and the broadening of the forces using armed struggle to oppose it.
In the two sections which follow we will analyze both of these forks in the road of El Salvadoran politics. Since war most shaped the lives of Salvadorans in the 1980s and early 1990s, we first will analyze the guerrilla movement, that fork in the road taken by those who had lost hope for peaceful change in El Salvador. We then will examine the process of democratization undertaken in the 1980s. We will pay particular attention to the roles played by Roman Catholic activists and by the criminal justice system. We then will analyze the electoral dimensions of the democratization of the 1980s and 1990s, a road taken by most Salvadorans committed to stopping the rise of the guerrilla movement that in the 1990s has been joined by the guerrillas themselves.
Components of the Revolutionary Movement. Guerrilla Warfare in El Salvador was a strategy chosen by several different armed groups of Salvadoran nationals in the late 1970s. Organizationally, it came to be known through the acronym of its umbrella organization the FMLN (Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation), but the movement was more disunited than its single name implies. The FMLN remained in tact through the 1980s and made peace with the government in the early 1990s; it formed a main element of the political opposition in democratic El Salvador in elections of the 1990s, becoming the second largest political party in 1994. In May 1995, however, two dissident factions of the FMLN broke ranks and formed their own political party separate from the FMLN, calling their new party the PD or Democratic Party (Partido Democrata). Former guerrilla commander Joaquin Villalobos most notably joined the PD.
The FMLN in War. Shortly after the factions of the FMLN took up arms in the late 1970s they began to receive logistical and material support of the Nicaraguan Sandinistas and the Cuban government. Locally, the movement of armed Salvadorans was considerably broader than just the communists and was composed of several factions linked to deep roots in Salvadoran society. In discussing the origins of the insurgency, even conservative scholar Robert Leiken (1984: 115) reported that, "the FMLN has two main sources: radicalized religious activists and the Salvadoran Communist Party."
One of the key factions of the Salvadoran revolutionary coalition was the Salvadoran Communist Party. Its true roots, however, were planted in Salvador, not Moscow. In the early 1930s, its leader, Farabundo Marti, led an uprising of illiterate coffee pickers who attempted to mount a general strike. This uprising was suppressed by the Salvadoran armed forces (led by Gen. Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez). At least 20,000 and perhaps 30,000 were executed by the Army without any trials whatsoever in La Matanza ("the slaughter") of 1932. Thus, Salvadoran Communists could point to their early leadership and advocacy of the cause of the oppressed-- and to the genocidal nature of the Salvadoran Army-- to establish credentials in the eyes of some citizens. Throughout the 1970s through the mid-1990s, Shafik Handal was the party's leader: Handal remained an FMLN leader as late as 1996. Their armed wing, called the Armed Forces of Liberation (or FAL), was founded between 1977 and 1979. The Communists joined with other groups to form the Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation, or FMLN.
Catholic reformers. Many of the aforementioned Catholic reform-oriented groups were radicalized by "death squad" repression of their non-violent reform activities (e.g., elections, strikes, protests) in the 1970s. Some of these radicalized groups took their inspiration from the teachings of the Catholic Church activists who subscribe to the doctrine of "liberation theology" (see endnote 1, below). They formed the organization called FAPU, or United Popular Action Front, to press the military government for social and educational reforms. (For analysis, see Parkman). Organizationally, FAPU evolved into the Armed Forces of National Resistance (FARN), which emerged to advance through armed means the FAPU's goals. Always a coalition of Catholic religious activists, university students and labor unions, not all FAPU followers became armed militants, but many did. The key event in this transformation occurred in 1975, when the Army gunned down many FAPU protesters in the streets of San Salvador. Thus was born the faction which became FAPU's armed auxiliary wing, whose purpose was to protect group members at their demonstrations. In time, this wing evolved into the FARN in the 1980s. The FARN became an integral part of the FMLN at its founding. Most of these converts to armed revolution in the 1980s continued to contend that the "death squads" organized by military governments in the middle 1970s did not die after the "reformist" coup of 1979. In this analysis, the "death squads" continued in the 1980s to be guided by the apparently "soft" right factions which only apparently, but not truly, were in control of the Army.
Another of the FMLN's leftist fighting factions was the Farabundo Marti Popular Liberation Forces, a group which grew out of the late 1970s repression of its above-ground front, the Popular Revolutionary Bloc (or BPR). This group based its thinking on the idea of a peasant, rural basis for revolution.
A third and more significant fighting force was the People's Revolutionary Army (or ERP). It originally was linked the repressed above-ground movement called the "Popular Leagues of 28 February" (or LP-28) to the armed revolutionaries. It was founded in the early 1970s by Christian Democrats and university student radicals. The leader of this guerrilla force, the young, charismatic Joaquin Villalobos, came to play an important leadership role in negotiations leading to the ultimate end of the war (in 1992) and in the emerging democratic politics of the 1990s. His comrade-in-arms, Ana Guadalupe Martinez, embodied the radicalization many young women underwent in the forge of Salvador's political violence. She rose to the role of comandante in the FMLN, and, after peace eventually came about, in 1994 briefly served as Vice President of El Salvador after election to the post by the National Congress. During the war years the ERP spent most of the 1980s as a potent fighting force and came virtually to rule much of the countryside in Morazon province. In the era of peace, both Villalobos and Guadalupe were more willing to compromise with the ARENA governments, and they quit the FMLN to form the PD in 1995.
Finally, the Revolutionary Party of the Central American Workers (PRTC) was the armed force guerrilla representing the continuation of the repressed above-ground "Movement of Popular Liberation" from the late 1970s. In all, these armed groups formed the FMLN.
As a result of the peace agreement of the early 1990s, the FMLN and its offshoots (e.g., the PD) became legal political parties. During the war it was associated with Mexico City based Revolutionary Democratic Front, or FDR. The chief spokesperson for the FDR, hence often for the FMLN, was for over a decade the founder of the Salvadoran Social Democrat Party, Guillermo Ungo. Ungo at one time was an above ground politician: in 1972, Ungo stood as the vice presidential running mate with Christian Democrat Jose Napoleon Duarte. Both were denied office by a fraudulent Army-run tally of the results. Ungo also was one of the many moderates who joined military officers in a governing junta (committee) after the key change in the political system caused by the coup of October 1979. However, unlike his former associate Duarte, Ungo abandoned the junta and went over to the side of the revolutionaries shortly after a sharp increase in violence --and threats against his own life -- in Spring 1980. The FDR long remained a front organization for the FMLN guerrillas. However, Ungo and other moderates in the FDR frequently expressed greater optimism about negotiated solutions and electoral mechanisms to that end than did most other components of the guerrilla group FMLN. Ungo himself, however, did not live to see this posture vindicated: he died of natural causes in 1992.
Another influential spokesperson in exile for the FDR-FMLN long was Ruben Zamora, whose brother was a leading Christian Democrat politician assassinated in the early 1980s. Zamora represents the transformation of the left in the 1990s into a legitimate political party: he campaigned for the presidency in 1994, backed by a coalition of leftist groups including the FMLN, and finished second, winning 31.7 percent of the vote.
In the March 1997 legislative elections, the FMLN ran neck and neck with the ruling ARENA, polling 28 seats to the FMLN's 27 (up from the FMLN's 21 in the 1994 balloting); 28 seats went to other parties, including 11 to the conservative PCN (Partido de Conciliacion Nacional), nine to the Christian Democrats, and six to a coalition of left-leaning forces calling themselves Unidad Social Cristiana.
Tactics of the FMLN as a Guerrilla Movement
It is impossible here to recount a comprehensive military history of the Salvadoran civil war; moreover much of such detail is unnecessary to clear political analysis. However, it needs to be borne in mind that the FMLN fighters followed a classic guerrilla strategy and did so more successfully than all other Latin American revolutionary movements of the 1980s. So, even in this political analysis their experience requires at least some attention. A classic guerrilla strategy is based on three stages: strategic retreat, stalemate, and escalation to conventional war (For full discussion of this strategy in general, see APPENDIX, below). These are not chronological steps but clusters of tactics. The overall objective in the first stage, strategic retreat, is to build an organization capable of waging a long struggle that has both military and political dimensions. Separate organizational components, linked together and supported by the population must be constructed. These functions in El Salvador were accomplished separately by the component parts of the FMLN, each with their ancillary organizations from the 1970s. Unified into the FMLN under pressure from Nicaragua and Cuba around 1980, the guerrilla commanders elected to escalate quickly to stage two tactics in the hope of igniting a spontaneous uprising. To do this in January 1981, they attempted to mount what they called a "final offensive" by carrying the battle to the streets of the capital, apparently with the idea that the mere presence of armed militants openly flaunting their counter-authority there would stimulate a general uprising in the capital (and beyond). This tactic was overly optimistic: the general population hid from both militants and the Army sent to stop their "street politics" and the "final offensive" failed.
Retreating to hinterland mountainous areas, the FMLN throughout the early 1980s was forced to revert to a stage one ("strategic retreat") strategy. Guerrilla forces built bases in the Guazapa volcano area, in Morazon and Chalatenango provinces, and in other isolated pockets throughout the nation. Salvadoran Army repression substantially neutralized peasant support in many other areas, and allied "death squads" murdered suspected guerrilla sympathizers with impunity. Army massacres such as the one at Mozote in 1981 shocked both the rest of the world and the Salvadoran peasantry. The combined effects of these responses to FMLN tactics weakened but did not ever break their networks of supporters who continued to provide intelligence to the guerrillas throughout the war.
The FMLN's aim was to wear down the government forces simply by not losing. In this they succeeded. Throughout the war, guerrilla commanders' strategies reflected an appreciation of Vietnamese General Giap's axiom: "fight when you are sure of victory; if not sure of victory, don't fight." The repression of the middle 1980s bent, but did not break the guerrilla movement. It did, however, prevent the type of broadening of support which probably would have been needed in order for the left to seize power.
The repression also produced significant backlash, both in the American Congress and, to a lesser but real degree within the Reagan Administration. Inasmuch as US aid was critically needed by the Salvadoran Army, pressures which were heard increasingly after 1983 from the US diplomats to rein in "death squads," democratize the political control over the military, and end all massacres of civilians had to be regarded as serious threats to the continued status quo in the military.
It became evident that the war was mired in stage two ("stalemate") in late February 1987, when Salvadoran guerrillas again mounted major assaults. One raid that month, at the El Paraiso Army barracks resulted in over 600 casualties for the Salvadoran Army --and the death of a US military advisor (LAWR 1987b: 5). Similarly, reports from El Salvador in the winter of 1988 described renewed guerrilla strength in the Guazapa volcano area, barely 20 miles from the capital. It is this very region which was depicted in the film about the 1982 work of US citizen Dr. Charlie Clemens, "Witness to War," but which was said to have been "pacified" by Salvadoran Army counterinsurgency operations in the middle 1980s. Not only had the Salvadoran Army not won the "hearts and minds" of e people; they had not even won daytime control over that land.
Yet it is too simple to say that the FMLN was wearing down the government forces, for it must be recognized that the government itself had evolved. In 1981, El Salvador remained a military-run dictatorship, masked by a thin patina of democratization not yet recognized by any but the most partisan supporters of US policy there. In 1984 elected government took office, and by the latter part of the decade it is fair to say that in many policy areas civilian officials had begun to assert real power. The state had elected governments, top to bottom, and the system could no longer fairly be called a military dictatorship. In this changed context, FMLN violence to many looked less and less like popular resistance to dictatorship, and more like the desperate terrorism of those of the left unwilling to accept the fact that within a changed, democratizing El Salvador their views did not enjoy greatest support. Thus, the start of the final stage of the Salvadoran war which began in October 1988 and extended into early 1989, found FMLN fighters targeting elected moderates: Christian Democrat local government officials were targeted, prompting seventeen such mayors to resign their posts.
These dubious "revolutionary" acts escalated after the moderate Christian Democrats lost the presidency to more conservative forces in a fair election in 1989. Shortly after the government of Alberto Cristiani was elected (March 19, 1989), the attorney general of the outgoing Christian Democrat administration was killed by a car bomb. Though FMLN guerrillas denied this crime was their doing, terrorism clearly remained one tool in the FMLN arsenal which they were able to use with impunity. Just days after Cristiani was sworn in as president (June 1, 1989), his designated Minister of the Presidency (a cabinet level appointed official), Jose Antonio Rodriguez Porth was gunned down along with his driver and a bodyguard. Rodriguez was a close advisor to Cristiani and was regarded as the chief ideologue of Cristiani's right wing ARENA Party. Three weeks later another ARENA ideologue, Edgar Chacon, founder of the right wing think tank Institute for International Relations, and an Army colonel (Roberto Armando Rivero) also were assassinated in separate incidents.
By the early 1990s, a relative lull in new fighting occurred, though the rate of political killings still surpassed each of the other nations of Central America. This situation, in part, grew from a guerrilla initiative designed to cause the US to rethink its commitment to the Salvadoran war and the hope that this rethinking would bring new US pressure onto the civilian government to accept the guerrillas' compromise peace plan. In the words of FMLN negotiator Salvador Samayoa (1990: 19): "The profound changes in Eastern Europe have dispelled once and for all the phantom of international Communist aggression in Latin America and should change forever the nature of US relations with Latin America."2 Perhaps; but a second element in the changed international system was that external support for the FMLN rapidly evaporated in the wake of the removal of the Sandinista Government in Nicaragua (Spring 1991) by popular election, the collapse of the USSR (1989-91), and the change in Cuban foreign policy which correspondingly developed. Put succinctly, no feature of the international environment supported a continuation of the FMLN's revolutionary war. In this context, and with the assistance of a United Nations now less obstructed by the exigencies of the Cold War, the parties to the conflict reached acceptable terms and the war was terminated.
IV. The role of the Roman Catholic Church in Salvadoran politics
Even as the quest for social justice played a substantial role in fueling the growth of the guerrilla movement of the 1980s, this same quest inspired other, more pacific efforts. In this section of the reading the role played by the Roman Catholic Church in Salvador's search for social justice is explored. As we have seen above, many guerrilla organizations drew substantial numbers of their supporters from the ranks of politicized Catholic activists of the 1970s and early 1980s. Catholic activists in that era had been victimized by "death squads," as had unions, journalists, teachers, university personnel and others who sought to challenge the coalition of interests then dominant in the nation (i.e., the landed oligarchy and the military). It is also true that many who sought major changes did not take up arms, but instead elected to attempt democratization of the system in the 1980s. For them, movement toward elected governments and toward an effective judicial system appeared a more appropriate personal choice than joining in armed struggle. As we will treat electoral developments separately below, here we will trace the stories of several religious activists which reveal insights into both the role of the Church and the nature of the criminal justice system. Since both effective associational interest groups (e.g., churches) and the rule of law are needed for there to be a truly democratic El Salvador, these foci can help us to measure the degree of democratization that has come to exist in the 1990s.
Religious Americans have strong reasons to reflect on these elements of the Salvadoran experience. Virtually all Salvadorans are at least nominally followers of the Roman Catholic church. Leaders of that Church suffered greatly in the 1970s and throughout the Salvadoran civil war. For confidence in legal institutions to be affirmed throughout Salvadoran society, responsibility for the specifically anti-clerical elements of their past needs to be established. Clearly, a civil society hardly can evolve, and government officials hardly can demand respect for law, if the killing of priests and nuns unendingly can go unpunished. Years of delay in this regard during the civil war can be explained partly by reference to the exigencies of that conflict; however, further delay during the post-war era, to many Salvadorans, may amount to a denial of justice which undermines their confidence in the entire legal system. This may augur poorly for the future. For justice long delayed may differ little from justice denied: both invite further injustices.
The Case of Archbishop Romero
Among the most polarizing moments for Salvadoran society was the March 24, 1980, killing of the popular Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Salvador, Father Oscar Arnulfo Romero. An important conciliator in life, in death the archbishop became the best known martyr in the cause of those who have struggled against social injustice and the iron fists of the Salvadoran violence. Romero was an outspoken advocate of "liberation theology," that interpretation of the Bible which stresses the important role of the Christian faith and Church in improving social conditions on earth. While he never made common cause with Salvadorans who embraced armed struggle and political revolution as the path to needed social change, Archbishop Romero publicly urged that dialogue with the rebels, not repression of them, be pursued. This view in the late 1970s made Romero a marked man.
As with all who are religious, Romero entered the thicket of political conflict reluctantly. Appointed as Archbishop of San Salvador in February 1977, he witnessed intensifying social conflict over the next three years. In May of that year, Father Alfonso Navarro was murdered alongside a neighborhood child who simply happened to be with him. As would later be the case in the 1989 killing of the several Jesuits and their housekeepers, the fact that the Church had organized itself as a humanitarian center provided convenient unarmed targets for an apparent "death squad" retaliation to a guerrilla-inspired assassination. In the 1977 events, guerrillas had killed conservative Mauricio Borgonova; in 1989, they had brought their battle to the Army's urbane oasis, San Salvador. In each case, the guerrillas' opponents could not easily find the guerrilla fighters, so Church relief workers appear to have been targeted instead.
To convey displeasure with this grisly cycle, Romero refused to attend the inauguration of a new military president (Gen. Carlos Humberto Romero) on July 1, 1977. Later that month Romero's office released a report stating that of nearly 720 persons arrested on National Security charges, two had died and 23 had "disappeared" while in official custody. His candor did not endear him to the military governors. In August 1978, Romero and Bishop Rivera y Damas, the Archbishop of San Salvador throughout the 1980s, published a joint pastoral letter. It stated that the emerging "popular organizations" involved in street politics should not be identified with the Church; however, it defended the need for such organizations to bring about the earthly agenda consistent with the coming Kingdom of God.
Repression against Church activists correspondingly escalated in 1979-80. In January 1979, Father Octavio Ortiz Luna became the fourth Salvadoran priest killed in two years as he and 4 youths perished when the National Police and National Guard raided a retreat he had organized to teach about Christian "basic communities." Forty others were arrested (Amnesty International 1979: 61-63). In June 1979, the symbol of the infamous Guatemalan death squads the "White Hand" were painted on the door of activist priest Father Rafael Palacios; six days later he was murdered. In early August, yet another priest, Father Alivio Napoleon Macias, was shot dead while saying Mass in the chapel of the small rural village of San Esteban Catarina (Amnesty International 1980: 132). Other religious persons were expelled from the nation throughout 1979.
The Reformist Coup. In this atmosphere of right wing terror and growing left wing militancy, on October 15, 1979, a military junta (committee) overthrew Gen. Romero's government, and invited some civilians to join it in a new, reformist administration. But despite claims that it was a "reform" government, the state terrorism continued. In some ways the repressive situation expanded inasmuch as a US arms embargo, in effect against El Salvador since 1977, was lifted: new US military aid was sought and delivered to the Salvadoran security forces. On February 17, 1980, Romero wrote to US President Jimmy Carter, urging that the US cancel announced plans to further arm and train the Salvadoran Army. Romero argued that "your government's contribution will undoubtably sharpen the injustice and the repression inflicted on the organized people, whose struggle has often been for respect of their most basic human rights. The present government junta and especially the armed forces and security forces have unfortunately not demonstrated their capacity to resolve in practice the nation's serious political and structural problems. For the most part, they have resorted to repressive violence, producing a total of deaths and injuries much greater than under the previous military regime... I have an obligation to see that faith and justice reign in my country, I ask you if you truly want to defend human rights: to forbid that military aid be given to the Salvadoran government..." (Romero 1985: 188-189).
But the US military aid from the Carter Administration was sent anyway; and the repression soon escalated. Less than a month later, over the radio, Romero again implored enlisted men and officers to ignore superiors' orders to open fire on unarmed civilians, saying: "In the name of God, then, in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise daily more loudly to heaven, I plead with you; I beg you; I order you the name of God: put an end to this repression!" (Romero, 1985).
The next day, March 24, 1980, Archbishop Romero celebrated a special Mass at the chapel of the Divine Providence cancer hospital in San Salvador. It was a Mass in honor of Sara Meardi de Pinto, the deceased mother of the publisher of the newspaper El Independiente (itself forced by violence to close later, in 1981). He began what would be his last lesson with a reading from John 12:23-26, which says, in part, "if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their own life will lose it." The Archbishop then delivered his message: "...you have just heard in Christ's gospel that one must not love oneself so much as to avoid getting involved in the risks of life that history demands of us." He quoted from the official encyclicals of Vatican II: "... Earthly progress must be carefully distinguished from the growth of Christ's kingdom. Nevertheless, to the extent that the former can contribute to the better ordering of human society, it is of vital concern to the kingdom of God... When the Lord returns it will be brought into full flower..." Returning to his own words, Romero went on to summarize the challenge of El Salvador, indeed the challenge of all of Latin America, saying "May this body immolated and this blood sacrificed for humans nourish us also, so that we may give our body and our blood to suffering and to pain-- like Christ, not for self, but to bring about justice and peace for our people" (Romero, 1981: 191-193).
Less than ten seconds later, while still continuing to speak, Archbishop Romero fell from a single rifle shot. He expired, within the hour, just yards from hospital beds of some of the convalescing war wounded. Of course, Romero would not be the last religious martyr in El Salvador; indeed, nine months later four American Catholic women (including three nuns) were raped and murdered by a National Guard unit. Nor would his martyrdom stop the more generalized violence: over 75,000 Salvadorans perished in the next ten years of violence. But Romero's killing ended much more than a life; for many Salvadorans, it ended hope for peaceful change. Many Christian Democrat Party activists saw in his assassination final cloture on the chapter of reformism; e.g., Ruben Zamora, has stated that this act was catalytic in the entry of many Christian Democrats into the armed revolution (Palumbo: 733-735).
Politicizing Murder: the Reagan Administration and Killing of the Four American Chatholic Women. Establishing the rule of law in El Salvador was an integral part of the American approach to the Salvadoran civil war. Accordingly, it seems self-evident that getting to the bottom of these high profile cases would serve as clear measures of change in the legal system. However, ascertaining the real circumstances surrounding the anti-clerical violence would prove to be a significant priority only to some in the U.S. During the era of military regimes (1979-84) much controversy surrounded the priority given to seeking justice in these cases. Early in the Reagan Administration, for example, Secretary of State Alexander Haig outraged many Americans when, on March 18, 1981, he implied to the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the nuns' murder had been their own fault, when he said "...perhaps the vehicle in which the nuns were riding may have tried to run a roadblock, or may accidentally have been perceived to do so, and there had been an exchange of fire" (Gugliotta: 1). These insinuations outraged the families of the four martyred women: Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, Dorothy Kazel (all nuns) and Jean Donovan (a lay worker in a Catholic refugee resettlement project). More, Haig's intemperate utterances energized a broadening public movement in opposition to U.S. aid to the Salvadorans. Only later was it conclusively shown that Salvadoran commanders and the State Department had known Haig's characterizations to have been false at the time he attempted to smear them to the Congress (Gugliotta: 1, 36). Deliberately raped, brutally tortured and murdered, the nuns were victims of a war in which civilians were among the primary targets and 80 percent of those who died fell at government hands. Both justice for the nuns and for the ordinary Salvadorans who suffered from similar violence figured directly in Congress: U.S. aid, 1981-84, was conditioned on regular Administration certification of progress toward improvements in these measures of human rights. After years of denial and delay, five Salvadoran National Guardsmen responsible for the December 1980 killings of the four American civilian churchwomen were convicted and jailed for 30 year terms in late May 1984.
This set of criminal convictions diminished the intensity of concern over Salvadoran human rights violations during the later Duarte (1984-89) and Cristiani (1989-1994) civilian presidencies. Reports of massacres less frequently were heard and the public's limited attention span for Central American stories soon was filled with debates over aid to the Nicaraguan Contras and, after 1986, the related Iran-Contras scandal. On the Salvadoran end, a carefully cultivated campaign designed to create the impression that U.S. aid was mitigating the formerly brutal behavior of the Salvadoran military became more successful. "Our brutal allies" was a theme fitted to yesterday's news.
But all in Salvador had not changed. Especially, the lack of resolution of the Romero case would not change. For several years the trail of the bearded man who killed Archbishop Romero just grew cold, as the vast scale of violence in the Salvadoran civil war littered the nation with corpses virtually beyond count. But no single case in Salvador's war was as emotionally --and as politically-- significant as Romero's, however. Then, beginning in 1987, the cloth of lies which covered-up the conspiracy to kill the religious leader unraveled. Rays of light would in the end pass onto El Salvador's darkest day. Most of what we now know has come to light indirectly; partly through mid-1980s US Congressional investigations of the irregular finances of the "Contra" rebels in nearby Nicaragua, partly through journalists' investigations. Parts of the story still remain opaque or have been disputed by the accused men. Salvador remains without a final judicial determination and the full facts may never be known.
Cracking the Romero Case: the Contra Connection. Even before the Iran-Contras scandal broke into the news in November 1986, investigative reporters piecing together the known facts about the "Contras" discovered that the Nicaraguan "Contras" had connections to other Latin American militaries. In March 1982, U.S. covert support to the "Contras" first had become an item of public debate in the U.S., though this support already was quite well known then in Central America, especially in Honduras. By the fall of that year, a force of about 3500 former Somoza-era National Guardsmen and others was present in Honduras, led by "Commander" Enrique Bermudez, formerly military attache for the Somoza dictatorship in Washington DC, 1978-9. Bermudez would command the Contras throughout the 1980s; he was removed as military chief of the Contras only as peace broke out in that war torn country, in February 1990 (WP 1990: 24). As the Iran-Contras testimonials ultimately would confirm, these irregular forces received military training and advice from Argentine military men, men who urged them to adopt an Argentine-style "dirty war" versus communism. One former Contra quoted Argentine trainers as saying to him: "We're the only people in Latin America who've beaten the communists in a war. The way to win is to fight a 'dirty war' like we did in the 1970s" (Chamorro: 22).
Bermudez' security chief was a Salvadoran national, Ricardo "Chino" Lau. Sr. Lau was an influential Contra, but also a man with a somewhat tarnished reputation. In 1985, former Salvadoran Military Intelligence Chief Roberto Santivanez stated that Sr. Lau, in 1980, had received in Guatemala $120,000 for having played a part in the assassination of Salvadoran Roman Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero (Washington Post 1985: 1, 28). According to former Contra leader Edgar Chamorro (22), Sr. Lau formally was fired by the Contras in mid-1982, but as late as 1984 "Lau was still the last person to talk to [Contra Commander] Bermudez at night and the first to talk to him in the morning." Thus, attention to the true characteristics of the "Contras" during the period 1984-86 -- made newsworthy in the U.S. after the U.S. and Iranian origins of some of their monies became public knowledge (November 1986)-- made it possible to follow more easily several faint trails leading into El Salvador. US news organizations found it easier to follow safer leads, however, so the more widely reported the Salvadoran connection to the scandal was said to be the use of the Salvadoran Military's Ilopango Airbase as the key staging area for Col. Oliver North's network of airdrops into Nicaragua.
In 1984, as massive US economic and military aid buoyed the military position of the Salvadoran security forces, an election was held and civilian Jose Napoleon Duarte was selected President of El Salvador. Correspondingly, support for the party of the intransigent right, A.R.E.N.A., slipped in the voting: they polled 46.2 percent of the vote (Maolain: 112). Substantial US aid given to the Duarte campaign had paid off. A Christian Democrat reformer and former mayor of the capital, Duarte was both despised by the hard right in El Salvador and, it was said, was personally committed to solving the Romero case. Indeed, on his inauguration day, the new president prayed at the martyred Archbishop's tomb and publicly swore vigorously to investigate. This symbolic gesture further assuaged US Catholic activists and the decline in their participation in the campaign to pressure the US Congress to cut aid to El Salvador continued. For three years, however, little visible evidence of the efforts undertaken by the Duarte administration came into public view. Outside the legislative corridors, however, concern with the Romero case continued to occupy other investigators.
On November 21-22, 1987, a Salvadoran exile living in southern Florida, Amado Antonio Garay, gave testimony which proved to be the first major break in the Romero case. That month Garay traveled to San Salvador to state that in 1980 he had driven the vehicle ("a four door red Volkswagen") which conveyed Romero's assassin ("a tall young man with a beard and a rifle") to and from the scene of the crime. This 1980 trip had been no accident: Garay described driving this man to the Divine Providence chapel on March 24, 1980 on orders of his commander, a Salvadoran Army captain (now retired and living in Florida), Capt. Alvaro Saravia. Outside the chapel Garay waited, pretending the car was broken: "I heard a loud shot and saw the man with a gun in his hands. He told me to drive away slowly and quietly, and we returned to Saravia's house," testified Garay.
Garay's testimony was consistent with other information supplied by Chamorro and by former head of Salvadoran intelligence Santivanez. It was not unidentifiable mystery men or "death squads," but elements of the Salvadoran armed forces who were the terrorists involved in Romero's assassination. Garay's accusations went further than had earlier ones based on indirect or hearsay information. Then-President Duarte, on November 23, 1987, publicly read aloud the portion of Garay's testimony which stated that no less a persona than current Salvadoran parliamentary leader (retired) Major Roberto D'Aubuisson had ordered the assassination of Romero (Washington Post 1987: 15, 19). It seems that three days after Romero's assassination, Garay and Saravia had gone to the home of Sr. D'Aubuisson. Garay's deposition stated that he overheard a conversation between Saravia and D'Aubuisson in which "The Captain [Saravia] said to the Major [D'Aubuisson], 'We carried out our plan; we killed Archbishop Romero. The Major said, 'You should not have done it yet.' The Captain said, "We did it because you ordered us to."
A second major development in the Romero case came in February 1989, when the Christian Democrat government of El Salvador publicly presented additional detailed evidence substantiating Garay's charges and officially declaring D'Aubuisson's close personal friend Hector Antonio Regalado to have been the actual bearded marksman Garay described. The U.S identified itself with these accusations: Duarte's announcement came shortly after Vice President Dan Quayle publicly had expressed in El Salvador the unhappiness of the Bush Administration over a December 1988 Salvadoran Supreme Court ruling effectively closing forever the Romero case.
Dissecting this ruling can help us to learn more than just details about one murder, one stalled prosecution. It can help us to measure the our Salvadoran ally's system; indeed, it underlines the lack of judicial impartiality in that system. The December 1988 Salvadoran Supreme Court ruling was issued by a seasoned right wing politician wearing judicial robes. Earlier in his career Judge Francisco Jose Guerrero had headed a key rightist interest group, the Coffee Growers' Association, had served as foreign minister for the military-run government in the late 1960s, had founded the (pro-Army) National Conciliation Party, and had made an unsuccessful run for the Presidency in 1984, winning 19.3 percent. These credentials, not judicial training or experience, secured his appointment to the Salvadoran high court where he served 1984 to June 1989. As if to signal the casual way in which judicial inquiries figure on the scales of Salvadoran justice, Guerrero chose to attach notice of his December 1988 ruling ending the pursuit of Saravia in the Romero case to a crate of Christmas oranges given as a holiday present to the U.S. Embassy staff! This sweet and stupid gesture underlined the causal approach Salvadoran "democracy" had by then brought to the law.
But Judge Guerrero's indifference to eyewitness testimony against his cronies was not without some value. The decision made quite clear that it was in the realm of politics, not of law, that justice could be done. And where politics cannot be conducted peaceably, violence will be its messenger. On November 28, 1989, gunmen shot the retired judge dead.
Only after a U.N. brokered peace agreement had been inked (i.e., Jan. 16, 1992) did the truth emerge, pregnantly from a U.N. Truth Commission report, not from a Salvadoran investigation or from a U.S. official: "Ex-Major Roberto D'Aubuisson gave the order to assassinate the archbishop" the U.N found and reported in unequivocal terms (Gugliotta: 36), going on to say that he had "issued precise instructions to his bodyguards, acting as a 'death squad,' about how to organize and carry it out." Ironically, though in 1982 Assistant Secretary of State Eliot Abrams had told Congress "Anybody who thinks you're going to find a cable that says that Roberto D'Aubuisson murdered the archbishop is a fool," at that moment Abrams knew of two such U.S. cables (November 19, 1980; December 21, 1981). The authors of that later cable knew and reported that in D'Aubuisson's presence his men "drew lots for the privilege of killing the archbishop" (Gugliotta: 36). Sophisticated observers will remember that Abrams' voracity was shown to be questionable in other circumstances: e.g., he was convicted for misrepresenting the truth to a Congressional inquiry during Iran-Contras investigations, and was pardoned by the defeated President George H.W. Bush on his way out of office, in December 1992.
Measuring The Legacy of the Unresolved Romero Case: the killing of the Jesuits in 1989. Judicial institutions exist not merely to jail the guilty and discharge the innocent. Judicial institutions exist to dignify lawful governance, by establishing to a people that in courts justice is sought and can be won. Justice helps a society divided to live together; a society without judicial institutions to establish justice will turn (as Salvador has) to vigilantism. The needed social healing a trial in the Romero case might have fostered simply was not permitted by the Salvadoran political system; and thus, the Romero case has continued to cast a long shadow over the future of Salvadoran democracy. Other darkness followed in its shade.
In November-December 1989, the FMLN launched another major assault, this time focused on the very heart of establishment El Salvador, the capital of San Salvador. In several weeks of fighting hundreds were killed and millions of dollars worth of property destroyed. At one point, US President Bush dispatched the elite Delta Force of the US military to rescue from San Salvador's Sheridan Towers hotel a number of US citizens --including US military advisors-- trapped there during the urban fighting. Fortunately, FMLN fighters released the US soldiers before the Delta Force contingent saw any combat action.
Top Salvadoran military officers later were reported to have been quite shaken by the rebels' offensive and to have met late into the night of November 15-16, 1989 to plan an escalated response to the guerrillas bold actions in the capital (Farah 1990b: 18). At 10:30 PM that evening, President Cristiani was presented, and then approved, the military's plan to use the air force and artillery within the heavy populated guerrilla-held areas of the capital. But the boldest next step was in a part of the capital fully controlled by the Army, not the rebels.
Shortly after midnight on November 16, 1989, at the University of Central America, six ordained Roman Catholic priests of the Jesuit order, their cook and her daughter were brutally massacred, apparently by Salvadoran Army soldiers of the US-trained Atlacatl Immediate Reaction Battalion. One of the Jesuit fathers, Fr. Ignacio Ellacuria was the rector (or president) of that university; another (Fr. Ignacio Martin-Baro) was the Vice-Rector. In January 1990, President Cristiani responded to the worldwide chorus of criticism and ordered the arrest of an Army colonel (Col. Guillermo Alfredo Benavides Moreno), two lieutenants (Lt. Yuzi Rene Mendoza and Lt. Jose Ricardo Espinoza Guerra), a sub-lieutenant and five enlisted soldiers. Benavides, the highest ranking Salvadoran soldier ever arrested in connection with a human rights violation case (Farah 1990a: p. 1), ultimately was tried and, on September 28, 1991, a Salvadoran court found Benavides guilty of murder and terrorism in connection with the Jesuits' murders (Current History: 396); a thirty year sentence was pronounced. However, as a US Congressional task force reported early in the investigation, high ranking Salvadoran military officers proved uncooperative in all investigations that sought evidence against those who authorized and ordered Benavides actions. Congressman Joe Moakley (D-MA) in 1991 quoted the Salvadoran Army Chief of Staff as saying that "not one person in the military --not one-- came forward to report to him the complicity of the army in the murders." Congressional criticisms later were joined by the 1993 U.N. Truth Commission (Gugliotta: 36) in its report which faulted the fact that only Benavides, and not "the intellectual authors of the assassinations, and those who gave orders for the killings go free." The Commission found that Army Chief of Staff and, until March 1993 Salvadoran Defense Minister, Col. Rene Emilio Ponce, to be that intellectual author. Similarly named was Col. Juan Orlando Zepeda.
The legacy of the murdered Jesuits, as of the Romero case before it, is measured not just by jail cells full or empty, but by diminished public confidence in judicial processes. Agitation for further prosecutions created tensions between Cristiani's administration and its hard-right supporters throughout the early 1990s. Long the advocate of a crushing military responses as the best means to end the Salvadoran civil war, the ARENA governments of the 1990s have found themselves caught between the sensibilities of their international patrons, and the demands of domestic supporters. As one businessman told US reporters, "you have to understand that there were people who drank champagne when they heard the news of the Jesuits' death" (Farah 1990a: 31). Some of those Salvadorans who celebrated the Jesuits' deaths apparently included Salvadoran intelligence officers who were reported to have cheered when the killing of Jesuit fathers was announced at their daily briefing (Farah 1990b: 18).
Those marginalized by the raw power of both leftist guerrillas and the official military forces, i.e., the great bulk of the population, received an even louder message: many of the guilty would walk with impunity in their midst. As the U.N. report of 1993 clearly delineated, this roughshod ride with little regard for law has extended long into the "democratic" era of Salvadoran politics, and it still haunts the "peace" Salvador now enjoys. That U.N. Truth Commission bluntly warned of the folly in simply setting these messy cases aside. The Romero case; the 1989 killing of the six Jesuit fathers, and of Judge Guerrero; the 1981 massacre of several hundred unarmed children at Mozote; all the horrors of civil war are but curious mysteries in the labyrinth of Salvadoran justice. They are mysteries with a continuing message. Summing up the findings of the Commission --which was headed by former Colombian President Belisario Betancourt--, Seligson (3) stated: "A United Nations commission announced in March 1993 that responsibility for the killings of thousands of Salvadoran civilians in the civil war must be assigned to senior military figures in the army, many of whom are still in positions of power." Indeed, eighty-five percent of all human rights violations during the war were found by the Commission to have been committed by the Salvadoran Army (LARR/CCAR 1995b: 2).
Even an optimist about the healing power of truth through law can hold too much hope. Another judge, Jorge Alberto Serrano, who was investigating the kidnapping-for-profit crimes of other officers linked to the D'Aubuisson group, perished in a hail of bullets in 1988; his replacement on those ransom cases (Juan Hector) unconditionally freed all defendants in April 1989, then retired (Farah 1989b: 25, 27). These were the fruits of a system in which abrogation of responsibility was synonymous with surviving in a legal career.
These concerns are not easily relegated to others, for America has mingled its name and its fortune in this story. As an official U.S. Special Forces document released in 2008 put it, in a tone reflecting a different reading of the 1980's in El Salvador than the one offered here: "Operations in El Salvador provide noteworthy examples of SF advisors applying mature COIN doctrine. Employing minimal leverage and extremely restrictive rules of engagement (ROE), SF advisors played a critical role in defeating the Communist insurgency by conducting operations by, with, and through their Salvadoran military counterparts. The El Salvador model continues to be used today. In Colombia, for example,..." (Dept. of the Army 2008: 1-3)
At purely material levels, too, there were costs. Not inexpensively did Reagan and Bush-era efforts eventually align the U.S with local forces seeking to find a political middle ground in the region. In so doing, never was it easy to maintain Congressional support for aid appropriations to this charnel house. These yearly appropriations in the recent past approached one half billion dollars yearly: one point five million dollars a day. Continuation of such largess after the end of the Cold War proved difficult: in 1990, Congress insisted upon and Bush ultimately was forced to accept a 50 percent cut in US military aid, a reduction explicitly made to show US displeasure with the lack of progress in the Jesuits' case. Resuming high levels of aid became still more politically difficult when the Cristiani administration continued to prove unable to control death squad activity in 1990-91, and continued to staff its administration with tainted officers like Col. Ponce. Further reductions in US security (i.e., military) aid followed: in fiscal 1991, Bush's request for $271 million was pared to $186.9 million. Even as negotiations toward a U.N. brokered peace proceeded, in fiscal 1992, Bush had to settle for a $44 million cut by Congress, down to $142 million of the $206 million he had requested (CQWR 1992: 1719).
After the signing of a peace agreement (i.e., January 16, 1992), some $63 million in US military aid for fiscal 1992 was reprogrammed so to be used to assist in the demobilization of combatants --a non-military function. This peace process overall assisted those in Congress who favored further aid to El Salvador, as reflected in an increased fiscal 1993 appropriation of $198 million. In fiscal 1994, President Clinton requested a total foreign aid package (economic and military) for El Salvador of slightly more than $138 million, and received a lesser sum, $82 million, the lowest in fifteen years (CQWR 1993: 2569; DOS 1997a). During the mid 1990s, the sums shrank further, and continued downward, searching for a new rationale.
A form of peace has existed in El Salvador ever since. After the publication of the 1993 U.N. Truth Commission report, it became clear that among the biggest casualties of this whole affair has been the needed candor about what we Americans really had been doing in El Salvador, and the character of our "friends" there. Elections have been held, but the criminal justice system remains problematic. The Catholic martyrs weigh on us still; for many, justice has been denied. Poverty grinds on. Land reform promises are unfulfilled. These circumstances are not surprises: they were long evident to those not blinded by anti-communist ideology. The consequences of terror and state terror, unbridled by the alternatives offered by a system of law and justice, even in an incipient form, have not been the creation of a civic culture, a vibrant economy and institutionalization of democratic governance. We have before us in El Salvador an empty shell of apparent democracy amid an exhausted people.
The focus of the U.S. on other world regions, and the apparent success of the 1992 Salvadoran peace agreement, make it appear that the problem child of Central America in the 1980s simply has gone away. But the real Salvadoran problems (e.g., injustice, poverty, a culture riven by violence) did not go away. Nor were their root causes remedied by the peace negotiations. Joined with pressure from the world's titular humanitarian center, the United Nations, it fell to the Clinton Administration to prod along the peace process toward true reconciliation, not just suspension of the killings; and that administration proved to be interested in other tasks. Little pressure was anticipated from George W. Bush, 2001-09, and less pressure than that was given. Ironically, Archbishop Romero sought not our pressure. Like the martyred Jesuits of November 1989, he sought only our restraint, not a safe American exile.
The Political Landscape: ransformed by the Peace Process of the 1990s
Across the 1990s, Salvadoran voters twice have elected new civilian presidents, and three times have chosen all 84 members of their unicameral Legislative Assembly, and twice have picked 262 municipal councils. The U.S. press has trumpeted these events as a triumphs of democracy, which hopefully they may be. As students of the political process, however, we ought not confuse mere electoralism with deeper measures of democratization such as the establishment of rule of law, and the emergence of an autonomous civil society (see Schmitter). In this section of the reading we examine the fortunes of the major "above ground" political forces. We will review the electoral experiences of the political parties that openly have competed for formal offices of government in El Salvador, both during and after the time of civil war.
To a great extent, above-ground party system of El Salvador pitted two political forces against one another in the 1980s: the arch counter-revolutionary National Republicans (ARENA) and the centrist reform party known as the Christian Democrats (PDC), though more than a dozen other small parties also legally were registered there. But as the real political conflict had become a military affair, and the political voice of the revolutionary FMLN was absent from this party system, change would of necessity come once the war came to an end in the early 1990s. Thus, while the PDC versus ARENA political rivalry was the major feature of legislative and presidential contests in the 1980s, by 1994, the PDC had been eclipsed by groups farther to the left. Notable in this process has been the rise of the FMLN which first was registered as a legal political party in December 1992. By 1994, the FMLN had become the second largest political party in El Salvador, and in legislative elections in 2000, it finished as the largest Salvadoran political party, beating the ARENA 31 to 29 seats in the 84 member National Assembly (LACCAR 2000c: 1). This section of the reading recaps these developments.
The Collapsing Center: In terms of the US counterinsurgency strategy in El Salvador in the 1980s, the one most significant political party was the Christian Democrat Party (Partido Democrata Cristiano), or PDC. Not only was the key leader Jose Napoleon Duarte, president (1984-1989), from the Christian Democrats. The PDC also was instrumental in the early years of the decade as a supporter of the US military aid to the Salvadoran Army. Its reformist credentials helped sell the project in Washington to often skeptical Congressional members and Senators. Moreover, the PDC was the organization which produced the group of defectors so important to marketing the legitimacy of the FDR, the Mexico City-based front for the guerrillas. The PDC once had been a broad coalition of Catholic reformists; it, like all of Salvadoran politics, was transformed by the impact of the October 15, 1979 coup.
The Christian Democrat Party was founded in 1960 as a vehicle for Catholics to both press for reform and to stop revolutionary communists' appeals. This phenomena (i.e., Christian Democratic parties) received strong support from liberals, Catholics and the US throughout Latin America. In El Salvador as elsewhere, the party advocated reform as the strategy to stop revolution. Since Salvadoran democracy scarcely existed, PDC boycotted the 1962 Presidential election, and was the leading opposition element in presidential contests decided to its disadvantage by chicanery and fraud, in 1972 and 1977. Duarte himself was tortured by the military, and driven into exile after clearly winning the 1972 balloting, only to be denied office by the military's official tally of the votes. After many reformists quit the civilian-military junta ruling the country in Spring 1980, Duarte was appointed interim President by the military, in December 1980, a post he held until 1982. After setbacks in legislative and constituent assembly elections during those early years of the civil war, Duarte finally was elected President and able to take office in May 1984, polling 53.6 percent of the popular vote. The PDC's electoral fortunes were mixed throughout the 1980s: in 1982 Constituent Assembly elections, it had won 40.7 percent and 24 of 60 seats. After Duarte had secured the presidency, in legislative elections of March 1985, the PDC finally won a majority in Salvador's unicameral parliament (33 of 60 seats). In the presidential balloting of March 19, 1989, however, conservative opposition ARENA candidate Alfredo Cristiani out polled PDC nominee Fidel Chavez Mena 54 percent to 37 percent, and the PDC fell from office. On March 10, 1991, Salvadoran voters elected delegates to an enlarged 84 seat Assembly of Deputies. PDC candidates won 26 seats, finishing second to ARENA (39 seats). Fidel Chavez Mena also was the party's losing nominee for the presidency in 1994, finishing third in the first round balloting and thus not eligible to compete in the runoff presidential election of May 1994. The slippage of the PDC to third status also was confirmed in the legislative results: its 18 seats put it third behind Arena (39 seats) and the FMLN's front (21 seats). (Three small parties held an additional six seats among them to round out the current 84 seat Congress.) In 1995-97, the PDC was torn apart by internal disputes. One legislator broke ranks and joined ARENA. Another splinter group of eight legislators defected in 1995 to form the PRSC (Partido de Renovacion Social Cristiano). In 1996 a personnel schism led to the April 1996 expulsion from the party of its Secretary General, Ronal Umana (LAWR 1996: 2). By the time of the national legilsative elections of Spring 1997, barely one in ten Salvadoran voters still cast ballots for the Christian Democrats, and they polled a mere 9 of 84 seats that year (LAWR 1997b: 160).
Many Salvadoran nationalists little bemoan the PDC's demise. US assistance to the PDC was very visible in San Salvador and other parts of the nation throughout the 1980s, and many resented this involvement. It has reliably been reported that up to one half of all PDC election expenses in the 1984 Presidential campaign were paid by sources traceable to the US government; similar rumors were heard, but could not be confirmed, concerning US involvement in the 1989 and 1991 elections.
The decline of the PDC, and the corresponding rise of the FMLN, thus was the major political trend in the center and left of the spectrum during the 1990s. But this may illustrate a larger problem: fragmentation of the whole political party system. Defections affected the once-revolutionary FMLN, and in 1997 legislative elections the ARENA also had three notables resign to join other parties (LAWR 1997a: 23).
The Ascendant Right: The most important right wing party in El Salvador is the National Republican Alliance (Alianza Republicana Nacional), commonly called the ARENA party. It has ruled the nation since 1989 and was founded in the early 1980s by retired National Guard major Roberto D'Aubuisson. Between 1982 and December 1984, ARENA also had substantial influence within the government of El Salvador, as the democratization project had not until that latter date succeeded in bringing the reform-minded PDC to full power. In March 1982, the party won 29.1 percent of the vote and 19 seats in the legislature. ARENA had substantial influence over the selection of an interim president, Rene Fortin Magana, who served 1983-4 and who was named by ARENA in 1989 to serve as president of the Supreme Court. Publicly, the U.S. welcomed the apparent transition toward civilian governance in the early 1980s. But, privately relations were more complex.
Magana's administration was so inept in controlling the military and its "death squads" that, on December 11, 1983, Vice President George Bush visited and told the president (Gugliotta: 36): "Your cause is being undermined by the murderous violence of reactionary minorities. These cowardly death squad terrorists are just as repugnant to me, to President Reagan, to Congress, and to the American people as the terrorists of the left. If these death squad murders continue, you will lose the support of the American people." Bush's aide at the meeting, Lt. Col. Oliver North, then handed Magana a list of nine individuals who the U.S. insisted must go. Eight were high officers with clear death squad links; the ninth was D'Aubuisson. Twelve years later, not one of these individuals had been tried for their death squad crimes, and two remained on active duty with the Salvadoran Army as late as January 1993.
Magana's administration was not only a human rights disaster, and a failure at the level of maximizing relations with its U.S. patron. It also was a partisan flop: ARENA's own 1984 Presidential candidate, the odious D'Aubuisson, lost (though not by much; he received 46.4%). In legislative elections of March 1985, the party again was defeated by the PDC; ARENA (in coalition with the conservative National Conciliation Party) won 25 seats. (For analysis of this election and other aspects of the Salvadoran democratization process, see Garcia). Ironically, the competitive party system that did eventually take shape brought little more effectiveness to administration. By the later 1980s and 1990s, to many voters it was the corruption associated with the Christian Democrat Duarte administration which was more pertinent; memories of the ARENA-death squad ties had faded.
ARENA would not forever remain the opposition, and it would elect two consecutive presidents of El Salvador in free and fair elections. In the Spring of 1989, ARENA's new leader, Alfredo Cristiani, emerged as the most popular Salvadoran candidate with the voters, winning over 400,000 votes. Non-voters, however, were more numerous still: of 1.8 million eligible voters, only 850,000 actually voted, perhaps partly in response to FMLN calls to abstain from the whole process. Nevertheless, Cristiani out polled the others and took office July 1, 1989; ARENA also won 32 Assembly seats for an absolute in the then 60 seat unicameral legislature, 1989-91.
In March 1991, another election was held for an enlarged Assembly of Deputies. While ARENA remained the largest party, it lost its absolute majority, garnering but 39 seats in the 84 seat chamber. However, another rightwing party which had voted in the legislature with ARENA, 1989-91, the Party of National Reconciliation, won 9 seats in the 1991 balloting. Taken together with the Authentic Christian Movement's one seat, the ARENA-National Conciliation coalition enjoyed a slim but stable majority in the national legislature in the early 1990s. Moreover, in concurrent mayoral ballotings in March 1991, ARENA control over local governments were continued with the party winning 175 of 262 such races (WP 1991: 26). Even more encouraging from the point of view of avoiding focus on the inconvenient aspects of ARENA's past was the 1992 death of D'Aubuisson himself, from cancer.
However, the odious stench that recurringly emits from behind the shiny ARENA image may have outlived Cristiani's tenure. First, his Vice President, Sr. Merino, was implicated in a 1990 CIA report focusing on the Salvadorans financing "death squads" still operating in that year (Krauss: 9). The home of another prominent ARENA leader, San Salvador Mayor and 1994 presidential candidate Armando Calderon Sol, was cited in a 1990 letter from US Ambassador Walker (to the Assistant Secretary of State, Bernard Aronson) as the site of 1981 meetings where D'Aubuisson's "death squad" plotted other killings (Krauss: 9). When a U.N. report of March 1993 named names about these and other matters, Cristiani promptly submitted and his Congress promptly passed a broad "absolute and unconditional amnesty in favor of all persons who in any manner may have participated in the commission of political or common crimes... before 1 January 1992" (LAWR 1993). These associations notwithstanding, ARENA's Calderon Sol won the 1994 presidential election.
Thus, even as peace unfolded across the 1990s, the possibility of justice through democratization receded. As one of the members of the U.N. Truth Commission for El Salvador stated late in 1993, "[t]he activities of these death squads threaten the future of El Salvador as a free and democratic country" (Buergenthal: 24). To underline the freshness of links to that troubled past, in late 1996 a new "death squad" named in honor of the late-D'Aubuisson, the FURODA, began picking off enemies. In August 1997, for example, journalist Maria Elena Saravia was shot in the head and killed (LAWR 1997c: 420).
ARENA's fortunes as a governing party also suffered. While able to lock in the presidency under Cristiani and Caleron Sol, it never won a legislative majority. To govern, ARENA came to rely on support of other parties in the national legislature until 1997. After the legislative balloting that year, a diminished ARENA delegation --a mere 28 of 84 legislators-- suffered the humiliation of having the enabling legislation for its telephone privatization bill rejected, 28 to 56, i.e., their legislation was rejected by the unanimous vote of every other political party in the national legislature. To salvage the situation in anticipation of the 1999 general election, former president Cristiana was appointed ARENA party chairman (Septermber 1997). Party unity would become a key factor to affect the electoral fate of its third presidential bid, made by party nominee Francisco Flores in the 1999 presidential elections. Public opinion polls a year ahead of the election showed that while the two forces, ARENA (23.8%) and FMLN (20.2%), remained the two largest in the nation, public support for each continued to fall and, by the start of 1998, more than half of Salvadorans supported neither the right nor the left (LAWR 1997d: 600). Cognizant of this floating electorate, FMLN 1999 Presidential nominee Facundo Guardado proclaimed his willingness to include non-FMLN members in his cabinet, if elected (LAWR 1998b: 456), and made an electoral coalition with the small Union Social Cristiana, calling the FMLN-USC ticket El Cambio (the Change). But voters still distrusted the moderating left, and by late 1998, ARENA's Flores led the El cambio ticket 41% to 23% (LAWR 1998c: 540). Voters in the end came home to their habitual moorings, and ARENA's Flores (52 percent) routed the FMLN's Guardado (29 percent; Current History 1999: 238). ARENA, however, was defeated by the FMLN in legislative elections in 2000: ARENA won 29 seats to the FMLN's 31; the FMLN held on to the mayor's office in San Salvador, but in municipal elections, the ARENA retained a slim lead. Even there, however, the ARENA appears to be slipping, outpolling the left in only 127 councils, fully 34 fewer than they held prior to the election of 2000. The FMLN won 78 of the 262 local legislative council elections, up from its 1997 showing of 48 victories (LACCAR 2000c: 1). Thus, the long term trend is toward a weakening base of support for ARENA candidates at all but the Presidential levels.
The Role of U.S. Assistance to El Salvador
The broad contours of U.S. involvement in El Salvador have emerged from the analysis above: the U.S. engaged in a Cold War effort to stop communism in El Salvador, and to this end substantial aid was given, chiefly to political forces committed to democracy, but also to institutions with more mixed records (e.g., the Salvadoran Army and intelligence agencies). The section below describes the dimensions of this project at both military and economic levels.
Before 1957 only limited US aid was granted to El Salvador, and between 1957 and 1974, US involvement in El Salvador was on a lower scale than in the years since then. During these Cold War and detente years, about 450 Salvadoran police and military police were trained by USAID's "Public Safety" program. Total military aid spending similarly was small: between 1950 and 1979, $16.7 million in military aid was extended, including the training costs of nearly 2000 Salvadoran officers who took US military courses. These small sums reflected the existence of a mutual security alliance (the Rio Treaty of 1947) binding the US and El Salvador, but in a context of limited threats to that alliance. After the 1961 Cuban revolution, Salvadoran officers were quick to cooperate with the new US military doctrine which focused to threats arising from within Latin American societies ("internal security") rather than hemispheric defense. While guerrilla warfare emerged as a real threat in Guatemala after November 1960 and in Nicaragua somewhat later, few manifestations of internal security threats popped up in El Salvador. until the middle 1970s. The evolution of social unrest in that decade has been treated above.
Most US military aid to El Salvador was discontinued during the bulk of the Carter Presidency. In 1980, as we have seen above, new efforts were opened to stabilize the reform junta of 1979. In his final year, Carter sought appropriation of a sum in military aid ($11.5 million) equal to 69 percent of all US military aid to El Salvador for the entire period, 1950-1979. Similarly, $82 million in non-military aid was granted to the nation that same year. The tragic anticlerical violence of Carter's last year in office (1980) did little to cool the warming in Salvadoran-US aid relations. Though arms shipments from the US to El Salvador were suspended after the December 1980 murder of the four American churchwomen, six days before leaving office President Carter sent an emergency airlift of helicopters to the Army there, and 10,000 M-16 rifles were rushed to the troubled nation. This foreshadowed an even larger effort by the soon-to-be inaugurated Reagan Administration. Overall, US aid in 1981 ($126 million) contained about $25 million in direct military aid. It is therefore undeniable that the key US decision directly to aid Salvador's military in its campaign to defeat "communism" was not in a strict sense a partisan decision. The key steps were taken while Carter still ruled. The decision to up the ante in El Salvador appears more to have been a strategic response to new global realities: it came within months after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan trumpeted the end of detente and the beginning of a new era of confrontation, a second cold war.
US aid to El Salvador composed a complete counterinsurgency strategy. Economic, reform and military components each played a role. In the 1980s U.S. economic assistance became a vital part of the total aid package sent to El Salvador for two reasons. First, at home in Washington, economic aid was the centerpiece. The claim that in El Salvador reform and change were being assisted proved convincing to moderate House Democrats. The support of men like Dante Fascell and John Mica, both Democrats of Florida, and Dave McCurdy of Oklahoma was needed if US aid was to be authorized by a (primarily) Democrat controlled Congress. Without the fig leaf of reform, political support would have been harder to assemble in the Congress. Second, economic aid was needed to fight the war in El Salvador because the Salvadoran economy would have collapsed without it, thus undermining the ability of the government to collect taxes, pay police, and in other indirect ways carry out a war effort.
So, a purely military package could not insure the continuation of Congressional support for the non-communist government in El Salvador, any more than a purely military strategy could win the guerrilla war there. The two went hand in hand. Food aid was one important aspect of this overall subsidization. Before the civil war was underway, in 1974 El Salvador received only 4 Million Metric Tons (MMT) of food assistance; by 1982, 132 MMT were received. Overall economic aid grew from $48 million in 1980 to $68.7 million in 1981, to $67 million in 1982, to $81 million in 1983, to $120.6 million in 1984, and $131 million in 1985. By 1987, extra aid, passed by Supplemental Appropriations, amounted to a further $130 million in economic support for El Salvador. Fiscal 1988 economic aid to El Salvador of $185 million was roughly maintained through the final war's stages, 1989-91.
Military assistance, however, was the most significant element in US aid to El Salvador, both in terms of the performance of the Salvadoran military and in terms of the political significance of the growing Salvadoran - US alliance. US foreign policy was organized so to dispense military aid through several programs. The Military Assistance Program (MAP) provided direct training of officers and aid; the Foreign Military Sales program (FMS) authorized and financed US defense material and weapons of US manufacture to be sold, or in rare cases, granted to foreign militaries; and the Economic Support Funds (ESF) program granted unrestricted monies to central governments, thereby freeing locally collected tax monies to be used for defense purposes. Other smaller programs, and CIA programs, augmented these major efforts. These remain the available tools for US policy makers in the 1990s.
With these several tools in hand, the Reagan Administration entered the Salvadoran civil war with firm convictions which appeared also later to guide the Bush Administration. In 1981, "there could not be the slightest doubt that Cuba was at once the source of supply and the catechist of the Salvadoran insurgency," stated Secretary of State Alexander Haig (Time 1981: 54). Salvador's war was, to the Reagan team, part of the global plan of the "evil empire" centered in Moscow. These convictions about the global nature of the struggle led in particular to a firm commitment within the administration to assist the Salvadoran military and civilian politicians who supported the defeat of the insurgency.
Between 1981 and 1985, over one billion dollars in military aid and unrestricted ESF funds were extended by the US. Military aid of $6 million in 1980 grew to $35.5 million in 1981, $82 million in 1982, $81 million in 1983, $196 million in 1984, and $128 million in 1985. ESF funds committed ($9 million in 1980) grew apace: $45 million in 1981, $115 million in 1982, $140 million in 1983, and $210.6 million in 1984. One unique feature of US aid in this period was the repeated requirement by the Congress that President Reagan "certify" in writing that various human rights abuses were being resolved. At one time or another, Reagan was required to sign off on assurances that the nuns' killers were being tracked down, that the killers of some USAID land reform experts were effectively being ascertained, that progress toward protecting average Salvadorans' human rights was occurring, and that progress toward an elected government was genuine. Certification reflected Congressional ill-ease with some elements of the US counterinsurgency project, and placated those who wanted to "do something" about it as long as the war effort itself would not be imperiled. In this context, diplomatic decorum was among the first casualties. Two years after leaving office, Carter's former human rights Assistant Secretary (in the Department of State, 1977-81), Patricia Derian, for example, publicly charged regarding the Reagan certifications: "Every six months the president certifies a lie: that progress is being made on human rights in El Salvador. Progress is not being made" (Derian). In this same vein, Carter's Ambassador to El Salvador, Robert White, bluntly wrote in 1981 that "The Reagan Administration has thrown its weight behind a military solution to the Salvadoran tragedy, ...[siding with a] Salvadoran military that opposes any accommodation with the left, preferring to kill them with the assistance of our arms and our military advisors" (White: 16). Three years later, White again put Reagan officials in the middle of a dirty deeds: a cover-up of the Romero murder (WP 1984: 26).
The election of Duarte as President in 1984, therefore, represented a crossing of watersheds, not just in El Salvador. With reformers now elected, the din of criticism of the overall US policy finally could be quieted. In this atmosphere, aid grew. In the second term of the Reagan administration, US military and ESF aid amounted to $419.8 million in 1985 ($124.8 million in MAP and $285 in ESF, plus 10 million in FMS); and in 1986, $302.4 million were sent. Figures for 1987 were similar to 1986: in 1987, US military aid amounted to over $421 million. Authorized spending for fiscal 1988 totaled more than $400 million for El Salvador, including $270 in military and $185 in economic aid. In fiscal 1989, $265 million and in fiscal 1990 $215.2 million more in military aid were extended to the troubled nation. Moreover, supplemental appropriations and secret CIA spending each year substantially increased these sums of military aid. (Figures 1986-8 drawn from CQWR 1987c: 3204; CQWR 1987b: 2984 ; CQWR 1987a: 1444; ; and CQWR 1986: 305; figures for 1989-91 are from CQWR 1990: 409).
Even after the end of the Cold War, President Bush's request for fiscal 1991 military aid to El Salvador ($270 million) continued to reflect the official US perception that the security situation there remained difficult well into the final decade of the century. As discussed above, ultimately Congress disagreed and pared spending substantially in the final years of the Salvadoran war, to $186 million (FY 1991) and $142 million (FY 1992; see CQWR 1992 and CQWR 1993).
For comparison purposes, US aid to help Guatemala fight back its guerrillas were on a vastly smaller scale, amounting to $12.5 million in 1985, $52.7 million in 1986 (CQWR 1986: p. 305), $120 million in 1987, $87 million in 1988 (CQWR 1988: p. 240), $89 million in 1989, $59.4 million in 1990 (CQWR 1990: p. 409), $30.4 million for 1991, and $15.3 million for 1992 (CQWR 1992: 1719). Overall US foreign aid, economic and military, for Guatemala for fiscal 1993 was only a fourth ($46.7 million) of the sum granted to El Salvador ($198 million). Ironically, in 1992-96, Guatemala's long communist insurgency continued until the final peace agreement was inked there, in December 1996.
These very substantial sums of US aid to El Salvador actually understate US involvement in Central America during the war years. In the second term of the Reagan administration, US aid supported and maintained US military bases in Honduras, bases which were said to be there primarily to serve as launching sites for US aerial reconnaissance, and to ready for more direct US contingencies. Much intelligence gathered from these bases, and from satellite intelligence was used in support of the growing US presence in El Salvador, and the military campaign the US advisors assisted. To quiet outcries at home against "new Vietnams," a ceiling was said to have been placed on the number of US advisors in El Salvador: a maximum of 55 during Reagan's first term; however, there were reported to have been over 100 US military personnel present there on several specific days.
US involvement was not unrewarded, and the Salvadoran military did reciprocate in the small ways it could. As the US regional role grew in significance, Salvador obligingly cooperated in other US efforts. Thus, as the Iran-Contras Hearings made clear, Salvador's Ilopango military air base was used as the key resupply point for the Reagan administration's efforts to support "Contra" rebels battling Nicaragua. Lt. Col. Oliver North headed up these efforts.
One of the key tenets in US military aid was the contention that US training and aid permitted the Salvadoran military to learn more effective methods of population control without relying on brutality to impose their will. However, inconvenient facts repeatedly leaked which undermined these contentions. Even after "democracy" -- or at least rule by the Christian Democrats-- had taken root, discomforting news continued to surface. Late in 1986, for example, credible reports of up to 1900 "disappearances" a year "90 percent of them at the hands of the [Salvadoran] armed forces" were tendered by Americas Watch (WP 1986: 27). The US government sharply disputed this criticism of the impact of its policies in the mid-1980s, turning the carnage into a reason to pass more aid. In February 1987, the Reagan Administration stated (LAWR 1987a: 9) that in 1986 "the bulk of the politically-motivated killings appeared to be committed by FMLN guerrillas" and that assassinations overall were down to 21 per month there (from 140 per month in 1983).
Progress remained virtually a matter of the view from the eye of the beholder. In 1988, reports from different sources again conflicted with one another, some seeing a decrease, others an increase in the fighting (see LAWR 1988: 9). All sources from that period, however, affirmed that the war went on, despite often heard and inflated claims to the contrary emanating from the various contending armed camps. According to the Salvadoran Army in 1987, 1474 persons had died from the war that year: 470 soldiers and 1004 guerrillas. The guerrillas' Radio Venceremos, however, stated that during that year they had killed or wounded 8875 Army soldiers alone (LAWR 1988: 9). In twelve months from July 1, 1987 to June 30, 1988, FMLN spokesmen claimed to have inflicted 2039 casualties onto the Army, a figure that rose to 2910 -- and 450 killed-- in the twelve months through June 30, 1989 (LARR:M/CA 1989: 7). Salvadoran Defense Minister Humberto Larios confirmed the FMLN claim, stating that 455 Army soldiers had been killed and 2434 had been wounded in action in these same months. However, the official emphasized that Army forces had killed more than twice this number of guerrillas (1111), wounded more than 1000 more and captured another thousand (LAWR 1989b: 12). The one indisputable fact was that a lot of killing still was going on, democracy or no democracy.
American Congresspeople and citizens might have availed themselves some direct evidence by talking to some of the half million plus Salvadorans in their midst. The trouble with this possibility was that locating Salvadorans to speak on the record was dicey: most were illegally in the US and feared deportation. This may also have been by design, for yet another curious feature of the Reagan approach was to deny Salvadoran refugees from the war sanctuary in the US. Of formal applications for political asylum in the US, Salvadorans were denied at a rate surpassed only by Guatemalans. Of 21,250 such applications (1982-1987), only 906 were granted. For comparison, 30,588 Nicaraguans sought US asylum in this same period: about one in six 5937 were granted (WP 1988: 21). No significant change in this policy occurred in the Bush Presidency, as war raged on; or during the Clinton Administration, after the war ended.3
Traveling to El Salvador, 1980-92, was a dangerous alternative source of first hand information for the curious, the serious student, or even US Congressional fact finders. As late as 1990-1991, El Salvador remained on the State Department's travel advisory list of nations to which Americans were advised not to go: political violence remained acute. The advisory was lifted only in 1993; caution should still be exercised if traveling in rural areas, poor areas, with large amounts of cash, or in vehicles that obviously come from the United States.
The Peace Process in El Salvador
In the face of the hard facts which have been portrayed above, very long odds surrounded efforts at peaceful reconciliation and an end of the fighting. In this section, the efforts which nonetheless were made to bring a negotiated end to the El Salvadoran civil war will be discussed.
Risks of Negotiation. It should be emphasized that negotiating peace is a highly dangerous enterprise for government and guerrilla alike. When FPL guerrilla Melida Anaya Montes (aka "Ana Maria") broke with the more hard-line communists in her movement to propose a fully developed negotiating position be given to the Salvadoran government, she was murdered by her fellow guerrillas, in Managua, in 1983. In an odd airing of guerrillas' dirty linen, FPL leader Cayetano Carpio took responsibility for the action, and promptly committed suicide himself (Leiken: 123), apparently at the urging of Sandinista Interior Minister Tomas Borge. "Ana Maria" had been stabbed dozens of times with an ice pick; publicly Borge found it convenient to blame the US Central Intelligence Agency for both deaths. This allegation was entirely specious.
In Fall 1984, at the small Salvadoran village of La Palma, the first direct negotiations between the Duarte Government and the FMLN took place. While this represented a major break in the attitudes of president and guerrillas alike, it was viewed with great suspicion by some elements of the guerrilla fighting forces and by much of the officer corps of the Salvadoran Army. The La Palma negotiations excited hopes throughout Salvadoran society and the reunion for the first time in many years of the 1972 running mates Duarte and Ungo carried with it great symbolic meaning to many Salvadorans. The process of face-to-face negotiating was supported by most Latin American governments, and while Duarte's efforts grew out of the search for peace then under direction of the five Latin American nations' "Contadora" peace efforts, the profound differences in perspective of rebels and government remained unbridged. Duarte's invitations to join in elections soon were rebuffed by the guerrillas. They demanded that rather than hold an election, the Duarte Government first should have surrendered power to a "government of national reconciliation" in which the FMLN would have played a prominent role. Then and only then, the FMLN argued, could elections be held. Thus, the 1984 talks produced little real progress.
In early 1986, one of the political groups in the FDR officially returned to above-ground politics in El Salvador, the Popular Social Christian Movement (MPSC). This step made public the differences in perspectives between followers of the two opposition forces FDR and FMLN. Apparently, some of the more moderate elements in the FDR were disturbed by FMLN units' adoption of terrorist tactics in Fall 1985, such as the kidnapping and ransoming of President Duarte's daughter Ines (along with other abductions of Christian Democrat mayors). Some FDR leaders also had condemned the FMLN assassination of 13 people, including four US Marines, at an outdoor cafe in San Salvador (June 1985). This action had no noticeable dampening effect on the war: in January 1986, FMLN fighters claimed to have killed 500 Army soldiers and Army sources reported that 140 guerrillas fell in operations around Guazapa that same month (LARR:M/CA 1986: 8).
Arias Peace Plan. In August 1987, the five Central American presidents signed the Esquipulas II accords, more commonly known as the Arias Peace Plan, named after the Nobel Prize winning Costa Rican president, Oscar Arias. Under provisions of the plan, general amnesties would be granted for political crimes in exchange for guerrillas laying down their arms and rejoining in a democratic national life. Obstacles to full democracy (e.g., censorship), were to be removed. Foreign nations were asked to desist from interfering in this process of national reconciliation; and regional nations were required to stop giving aid and comfort to guerrilla forces using their territories to mount aggression against neighboring nations. While these provisions enunciated a formula for bringing about peace in Guatemala and Nicaragua, too, the Arias plan was especially important to the hopes for peace in El Salvador.
Political amnesties were granted to convicted members of "death squads" in El Salvador's prisons. This development worried many Salvadoran moderates who had taken advantage of the let-up in death squad terror after 1984 to press the Duarte government publicly for more vigorous efforts in the areas of land reform and penal reform. Similarly, the amnesty was viewed with some disdain by US officials: among those set free were the convicted killers of two U.S. land reform experts, men who had been jailed only after the pressures which aid "certification" had brought about earlier. Ten percent of US economic aid was cut off due to this politically motivated release of celebrated convicts. Not all detainees who were important to the US were freed. Notably, the National Guardsmen who had killed Jean Donovan and the three nuns in December 1980, and who had been convicted and sentenced to 30 year terms on May 24, 1984 were not pardoned. They have continued to be jailed, as the Duarte, Cristiani and Calderon Sol Administrations have considered their crimes to be "non-political" and thus beyond the scope of the amnesty provisions of the Arias Plan.
Democratization was a second key element of the Arias Plan. Among the more moderate supporters of the FDR, two notable celebrities soon returned to El Salvador in late 1987 in order to begin efforts to organize leftist political parties for Spring 1988 legislative elections. Former Christian Democrat-turned rebel Ruben Zamora and FDR spokesman (Social Democrat) Guillermo Ungo boldly went home to El Salvador to test the mettle of the Duarte Government's commitment to peace. Initially, in the March 20, 1988 legislative elections and in the 1989 Presidential balloting, the political groups these men sought to lead did rather poorly in the balloting. Guerrilla supporters thereafter redoubled efforts to appeal to voters and by the next presidential election (March-April 1994), FMLN-backed presidential candidate Zamora ran second with about a third of the popular vote (31.9 percent), eclipsing the Christian Democrats as the alternative to the right.
The Arias Plan helped to make Salvador's search for peace a more exclusively national process. During the rule of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua (July 1979-April 1990), Nicaraguan sanctuary had played an important role in the Salvadoran revolution, especially insofar as command facilities were provided to the FMLN by Managua. The Arias Plan envisioned a complete cut-off of this sort of outside interference. After the assumption of office by the pro-US Chamorro government there (April 1990), compliance with the terms of the Arias Plan relevant to the use of third countries was able to more easily be accomplished. When combined with the complete abandonment of aid to "national liberation movements" by the collapsing USSR, 1989-91, these changes placed acute new pressures to settle the conflict onto the Salvadoran FMLN.
Contrariwise, the diminution in foreign involvement envisioned in the Arias Plan did not similarly weaken the Salvadoran Government or its negotiating position. US military and economic aid remained vital to the continued viability of the non-Communist government of El Salvador throughout the negotiations for peace, and after a Peace Agreement was reached. A slight, but not a significant, decrease in US support to the Salvadoran Army occurred, 1988-92, setting the stage for the now-defunct Sandinista government to insist that the U.S., and not Nicaragua, was substantially in non-compliance with the Arias Plan. Managua at that time pointed to El Salvador's continued acceptance of US military aid and Honduras' continued toleration of the Contras' use of Honduran territory as violations of the agreement. On this basis, Nicaragua continued to insist on its similar sovereign prerogative to receive Cuban and East Bloc assistance. Such demands further weakened the legitimacy of that regime in the eyes of many of its citizens, especially when little aid from Communist nations actually was able to be found.
With the shifting sands of global politics playing this key background role, change gradually occurred in Salvadorans' negotiating positions, though not instantaneously. In October 1987, representatives of the FMLN and the Duarte government had met again face-to-face, and again fruitlessly, this time in Caracas, Venezuela. Discussions on how to implement the Arias Plan floundered, but at least a dialogue was begun. Talks continued later in the fall of 1987 in Mexico City between the two political forces. Violence only ebbed. By Spring 1988, the guerrilla conflict in El Salvador had abated but had not gone away entirely. Over the next two years, the apparent retreat of the guerrillas (1988-mid 1989), their lapsing into desperate acts of terrorism against the political center (Branigan 1988: 20), and the growing prowess of the US trained Salvadoran Army led many observers to see the end in sight (e.g., see Kondrake). Hopes again were raised early in 1989, after Pres. Duarte initially accepted an FMLN offer to abide by election results in exchange for postponement of the 1989 election until a later date more suited to the rebels. But these fine imaginings again were shattered, first by the ultimate breakdown of the FMLN-Duarte agreement over the timing of the election, then again by the FMLN offensive in San Salvador in November 1989, and finally by the Jesuits' murder.
In 1990, at Caracas (Venezuela) the FMLN and the rightist Cristiani Government took the first steps toward talking an end to the war. War weariness had clearly taken its toll on all sides and, despite the lack of quick progress, despite the great ideological distance between the parties' views of Salvador's future, they continued to be willing to talk. By September 1991, an agreement on basic principles had been reached and, on December 31 of that year, details of the pact were inked by negotiators. On January 16, 1992, with the assistance of the United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, a cease fire and full demobilization agreement among the parties was signed in Mexico City; Cristiani and rebel leaders all participated. Though it committed the FMLN to disarm, major planks of the FMLN program were embraced, especially land reform. Over 650,000 acres were pledged to be distributed to rebel soldiers and their civilian supporters. Further, the U.N.-brokered accord committed the Cristiani government to disband several brigades associated with human rights violations (e.g., the U.S. trained Atlacatl Brigade), and substantial numbers of high ranking officers of his army were to be retired. A new force, the National Civilian Police, was to be created from former rebels, soldiers and police units.
About one thousand United Nations peace monitors (i.e., the ONUSAL mission) initially were placed in El Salvador to watch for and to report violations of the demobilization process and the other aspects of the peace process which the agreement had outlined. Though full compliance by the guerrillas and the military required that the final demobilization date be pushed back to December 15, 1992, eventually the majority of the disarmament provisions of the peace agreement were implemented. By early 1993, the Salvadoran war had ended. Nearly all of the U.N. observers were withdrawn in late April 1995. On April 30, 1996, the mandate for the U.N. peace observers formally expired; President Calderon then informed the U.N. that the continued presence of one or two U.N. observers was all that the country needed. However, only short steps actually were taken to implement the social reform parts of the accord (e.g., resumption of land reform); and some of the other reforms implemented in the 1980s (e.g., nationalizations of the coffee industry and banks) were reversed in the early 1990s. Thus, the foundation for an enduring peace based on social justice remained in some doubt.
Conclusion. Over 70,000 persons perished in the cruel Salvadoran civil war. Neither side really won, though it is also clear that the conservative right clearly lost less than any other political grouping. But the guerrillas, too, never were fully defeated on the battlefield. Time and again the FMLN found the capacity to confound the hopes for peace-through-victory that lay beneath optimistic Army assessments. War weariness, and an uncongenial international environment, eventually forced all to settle. It is apparent that the final conclusion of this human tragedy was not achieved by either side on the battlefield.
The political will to create a lasting peace based on justice appears elusive still in El Salvador. Key to the awkward peace that has emerged in the time since the fighting stopped has been outside pressure, especially from the U.S. and the U.N. Whether that pressure for full national reconciliation continues is in some doubt. The political will to persist in war evaporated in Washington, 1989-92, primarily, due to the end of the Cold War with the USSR. In Congress, many came to question the relevance to the US of alleged "threats" in Third World civil wars that no longer could plausibly be linked to a significant international coalition opposed to US interests. Without "reds," some argued, why worry our heads? Further, crises in strategically important areas elsewhere (e.g., the Persian Gulf, Southeastern Europe) made more controversial debates over the American national interest in sending limited defense resources endlessly to Third World militaries, even "democratizing" ones. In this light, the continuing failure of Salvadoran democratic governments to bring a just cloture to the Romero case, or to the Jesuits' case, proved catalytic in ending Congressional support for US aid policies which underwrote war. Another nail in this policy's coffin was driven by the burgeoning support in the U.N for active involvement in negotiated settlements of Third World disputes. Finally, some substantial credit must be given to the more pragmatic leadership of Salvadoran President Alberto Cristiani and FMLN leader Joaquin Villalobos which emerged in the early 1990s. Without their will to settle, the hard liners in each camp probably still would be engaged in battle.
Appendix: The Theory of Guerrilla War
In all war there are both objective and subjective elements that contribute to a combatant group's power. In a conventional war, objective capabilities (e.g., the number of fighters in arms, the types of weaponry at their disposal, the total population base from which to raise an army, etc.) are of great importance. But in guerrilla war, the subjective capabilities (e.g., the morale of the guerrilla combatants compared to that of the state's army and, especially, the guerrillas will to endure hardship to fight; the overall politico-military strategy of the guerrilla movement) are more important. This is because guerrilla wars are a-symmetrical; the weaker side (objectively) adopts guerrilla tactics precisely because it is the weaker. Guerrilla tactics are part of a strategy meant to maximize whatever advantages the guerrillas can find.
Stages of Guerrilla War: Guerrilla tactics form part of a total strategy of war winning, but they are not means unto themselves. In these ways, guerrilla tactics employ acts of terrorism but differ from sheer terrorism. The strategy of guerrilla war unfolds in three stages: 1. strategic retreat; 2. stalemate; 3. escalation to conventional war and victory.
Stage One: Strategic retreat. The basic principle here is use space to buy time. Political work in developing a network of supporters within the zone controlled by the government is more important than running up a string of battlefield victories. Organization of guerrillas is developed: top leaders, cadres, rank and file fighters, political liaisons, and supporters. Each unit in the guerrilla organization is organized into cells. Clandestinity is crucial. The tasks of the top leaders is to coordinate political networking, recruitment activities and occasional military missions. Cadres and political liaisons work behind the lines of the government army to a large degree. They establish contacts with sympathizers and organize networks of intelligence information and recruitment through them. This they then provide to guerrilla fighting units, in which they often also participate. Rank and file fighters train and prepare for combat. It is crucial in this stage of guerrilla war for the movement to have a secure base area from which to operate. Bases can be within the nation (e.g. China's PLA in Yenan; or the Viet Minh use of the mountainous interior portions of Indochina, 1946-51, and 52-54; or Castro's 26th of July Movement in the Sierra Oriente). Bases can also be established outside the nation (e.g., Laos for the Viet Minh, Pakistan for the Afghan mujahideen, 1980-1989, or Honduras for the Nicaraguan "Contras" of the 1980s).
The military component of this stage is measured and precise: raiding to capture arms from government magazines, conducting political propaganda operations by occupying villages for a short time; ambushing isolated government troops; assassinating government officials, etc.. This was the stage of the Viet Minh in the World War and again in 1946-51; it was also the stage of Viet Cong strategy in the Second Vietnam war, 1957-61. In the 1940s, Viet Minh redistributed French plantation lands (and that of collaborating Vietnamese) to win over the hearts and minds of the rural poor people. The key to this stage is political, not military: use space to buy time to build the movement.
Stage Two: Stalemate. After a dispersed organization of cells has been developed and a reasonably secure sanctuary for base operations has been found, tactics evolve a more consistently military element. In this stage, attempts may be made to "take territory", usually in a dispersed series of areas, rather than by creating a single front. Again, the political goals of creating a hidden movement of many collaborators who aid clandestine fighters are more important than sustained engagements with the government's troops. However, in this stage the means used to broaden the movement include provocations of government troops to entice them into committing reprisals against the civilian population that is suspected of assisting the guerrillas. This stage also may last for many years. The overall goal is to undermine the credibility of the government in the eyes of the uncommitted citizens (usually up to 80 percent of the people) so as to prepare them to acquiesce to the guerrillas' authority as the conflict escalates. Again, Vietnamese examples best can illustrate this overall point. The Vietnam communist revolution was in this stage from 1962 to 1967, and again from mid 1968 to late 1974. All of the tactics of Stage One continue, are expanded and larger forces of guerrillas are used in counterattacks against government forces, not merely "hit and run" ambushes. As the government forces escalate their responses, new base areas and sanctuaries are developed. Thus, the Mekong Delta and the Central Highlands which served as sanctuaries for the Viet Cong during 1962-68, thereafter were made less vital to the organization of Viet Cong war making (even though the guerrillas still were there). After the Tet offensive of 1968, the Viet Cong relocated their main base functions to the sanctuary of "neutral" Cambodia, to the Parrot's Beak area. This center also became unstable, however; it was invaded and bombed into rubble by the US (1969-70). The Guazapa volcano area of El Salvador played a similar role in the FMLN's strategy of conflict. Thus, the unique course of each guerrilla war dictates originality in strategic adaptation. The Viet Cong created multiple command centers. One was the tunnels of Chu Chi, near Saigon, which put the Viet Cong command headquarters underground, virtually directly beneath the principal US airfield (Tan Son Nhut). Truly, this made it difficult for the South Vietnam government and US forces to deal direct blows to the heart of the hidden guerrillas!
Stage three: Escalation to Conventional War: All victorious guerrilla wars have ended with a conventional assault. Mao used armored columns to sweep into South China. The Viet Minh surrounded and forced the French surrender of Dienbienphu (1954). Castro marched on Havana. The North Vietnamese truck and tank columns in Spring 1975 simply rolled down the highways and took Saigon with scarcely a significant battle along the way. Guerrilla tactics of hit-and-run and harassment are useful in wearing down and wearying the government forces, but they cannot effect the total collapse of those forces. In 1967-68, the regular army of the DRV began fighting fixed-position battles against US forces, setting the stage for the Viet Cong guerrillas' simultaneous attack on 30 cities (and hundreds of towns) in the crucial January-February "Tet Offensive," of 1968. This demonstrates that the escalation to conventional war can be used as a reversible step in bringing about the physical exhaustion and the deterioration of the morale of government (and allied, i.e., US) forces. It is not a "step" in an ever-escalating war; it is a strategic component that is part of an overall strategy to make relatively more potent the materially inferior guerrilla Army. This is how the escalation-to-conventional-war aspect of the decisive Tet Offensive (1968) should be understood. Hue was not "conquered" as a failing attempt to conquer all of southern Vietnam, but as a tactic to form part of the pressure to break South Vietnam's Army and population's morale to persist in war. (Over 20,000 were massacred by the Communists at Hue in 1968). Thus, the entire DRV strategy overall, and the Tet Offensive in particular, was directed at the morale and will-to-persist of both US and non-Communist Vietnamese military forces and that of their (USA and Southern Vietnamese) domestic populations. In the end, this strategy did wear down US support of the long war: after spending over $410 billion on the Vietnam War, after losing over 58,000 combat troops, in 1973, the US ended its combat role in Vietnam (Hudson: .57). For a brief time (1968-74), the Vietnamese Communists resumed the stage 2 "stalemate" strategy, showing that, as was the case with the alternating use of stage one and stage 2 tactics, Stage 3 can be adopted, abandoned, then introduced again at a more opportune time. That time came in the late Winter and Spring of 1975, when the regular northern Vietnamese Army invaded across the 17th parallel, proceeded southward along the major coastal highway and, in sequence, took every major Vietnamese city by direct frontal attack.
In summary, guerrilla war is a long term strategy by which objectively "weaker" armies try to defeat objectively "stronger" ones.
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World Bank, World Development Report (Washington DC: The World Bank/Oxford University Press, 1981, 1984, 1988, 1995, 2000).
Nora Boustany, "Changes at Home Raise New Worry for Nicaraguans in US Illegally," Washington Post (April 25, 1990): 6-7.
William Branigan, "D'Aubuisson Implicated in Romero's Death," Washington Post (November 24, 1987) : 15, 19
William Branigan, "Leftists Kill Officials, Civilians, Lifting Salvadoran Toll," Washington Post (August 29, 1988): 20.
Thomas Buergenthal, "Investigating Salvadoran Death Squads," Washington Post (November 30, 1993): 24.
Douglas Farah (1989a), "El Salvador Names Suspect in Killing," Washington Post (February 7, 1989): 22.
Douglas Farah (1989b), "Key Salvadoran Case Thrown out of Court," Washington Post (April 3, 1989): 25, 27.
Douglas Farah (1989c), "Rightist Salvadoran Judge Shot Dead," Washington Post (November 29, 1989): 29, 35.
Douglas Farah 1990a, "Army Officers Held in El Salvador," Washington Post (January 14, 1990): 1, 31.
Douglas Farah 1990b, "US Pressure in Jesuit Probe Said to Alienate Salvadoran Officers," Washington Post (February 6, 1990): 18.
Douglas Farah 1990c, "Congressmen Press El Salvador to Widen Probe of Jesuit Deaths," Washington Post (February 15, 1990): 55.
Guy Gugliotta and Douglas Farah, "12 Years of Tortured Truth on El Salvador: U.S. Declarations During War Undercut by U.N. Commission Report," Washington Post (March 21, 1991): 1, 36.
Clifford Krauss, "U.S. Aware of Killings, Kept Ties to Salvadoran Rightists, Papers Suggest," New York Times (November 9, 1993): 9.
Salvador Samayoa, "El Salvador: Rebel Aims," Washington Post (May 18, 1990): 19.
Robert White, "Way Out for El Salvador," The Guardian (Manchester UK: June 28, 1981): 16.
WP 1984: "Former U.S. Envoy to Salvador Accuses Administration of Cover-up in Slaying," Washington Post (February 3, 1984): 26.
WP 1985: Washington Post (March 22, 1985): 1, 28.
WP 1986: Washington Post (May 30, 1986): 27.
WP 1987: Washington Post, (November 24, 1987): 15, 19.
WP 1988: "Political Asylum Applications," Washington Post (March 4, 1988): 21.
WP 1990: "Contra Leader Bermudez Ousted," Washington Post, (February 9, 1990): 24.
WP 1991: Washington Post (March 24, 1991): 26.
1. The modern roots of liberation theology can be traced to Monsignor Angelo Roncalli. Roncalli was Apostolic Delegate of the Catholic Church in Turkey during World War II. He used his position there, and in his travels in Eastern Europe, to assist Jews to escape the Holocaust by providing fake baptismal certificates "by the truckload" (Szulc: 6). In 1958, Roncalli was elected Pope and took on the name John XXIII. He convened the Second Vatican Council from which many Church documents flowed which advocated an invigorated involvement of Christians in working for social justice. The impact of the Council on the role of the Church in Latin America scarcely can be overstated.
2. Samayoa's odyssey has been a lengthy one. Picked to serve as Education Minister in the October 1979 junta, Samayoa's resignation in Spring 1980 helped to torpedo that nascent reform era. In resigning, Samayoa declared himself to have been a guerrilla all along, and served off and on as an FMLN negotiator for the duration of the war. In the 1990s, however, he soured on his former comrades, and by 1998 professed that the needs of the business sector were too lightly regarded by the FMLN, which he viewed as likely to become a "small, sectarian and belligerent opposition party" (LAWR 1998a: 250)
3.A brief examination of US actions suggests the inefficacy of efforts to shelter the Salvadoran refugees in the US. The war weary who found their way here clearly found something less than the American dream. In the five war years leading to 1987, more than 21,000 Salvadoran refugees applied for U.S. asylum, but less than 5 percent legally were permitted to stay to join us in safety (i.e., 906 individuals; see: WP 1988: 21). Under President Bush, Salvadoran applicants saw even this narrow crack in our doors to freedom shut further: in 1989, only 2.3 percent, or 337 individuals, from more than 14,000 Salvadoran asylum applicants were granted political asylum in the US (Boustany: 6). Yet thousands of Salvadoran illegals remain in the US still, unwilling to exit now "peace" has arrived.
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