Elections Ahead, Peace Accords Behind?
The country is passing through a stage of transition: from the struggle for compliance with the peace accords to the contradictions that the March 1994 elections present.
Since the signing of the January 1992 peace accords, two key phases have commanded El Salvador's political scenario. The first was dominated by the conflicts, debates and agreements about how to put into practice the transformations contained in the Chapultepec document and, especially, in the Ad Hoc and Truth Commissions' recommendations.
The second began at the end of April 1993 and is dominated by the rearrangement of the different forces along the political spectrum in preparation for the presidential, legislative and municipal elections in March of next year.
Though the campaign does not formally begin until October, it is already practically impossible to slow the electoral impetus generated within the political parties, which complicates the process for fulfilling the peace accords. For some political parties, forgetting the still-unfulfilled transformations espoused by the accords responds to the interests they represent. But others--who are supposedly more concerned for the Salvadoran majority--may become engulfed in internal disputes and contradictions that will distance them from the interest they claim to represent.
The Salvadoran Political SpectrumFor such a small country, a large number of parties will participate in the electoral contest. On the right wing of the political spectrum are the government party, the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA); the Authentic Christian Movement (MAC), a splinter group from the Christian Democrats that has allied with ARENA throughout the peace process; and the National Conciliation Party (PCN), the historic party of the military, which survived the coup that deposed General Romero on October 15, 1979, and has played a role similar to that of the MAC.
The parties that define themselves as centrist are the historic Christian Democratic Party (PDC) and the recently-formed National Solidarity Movement (MSN) and Unity Movement (MU), both headed up by leaders of Protestant sects. The leftwing parties or alliances are the Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (MNR); the guerrilla movement-turned political party, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), with its five organizations; and the Democratic Convergence (CD), which is made up of three parties.
All of the political forces are fine-tuning their identity to one degree or another with an eye to pre-or post-election alliance or pacts. ARENA and the PDC have already confirmed their respective presidential candidates and are awaiting the results of the FMLN's internal--though public--debate. The former guerrillas have still not finished defining the strategy, program or presidential formula that they will present to the voters, due to the divergent interests existing among the different organizations that make up the FMLN.
ARENA's Campaign: Already RollingThe governing party was the first to declare its presidential candidate--the current mayor of the capital, Armando Calderón Sol--and everything indicates that there is internal unity regarding this decision. ARENA is the party that demonstrates the greatest stability going into the elections.
The economic power ARENA represents has permitted it to begin its political campaign already. Virtually all the resources coming into the country through the central government or the mayor's office of San Salvador are being used for clearly electoral ends. The publicity is constant: "ARENA wishes you a happy Easter Week," "ARENA supports the all-star soccer team."
The government is also campaigning in San Salvador neighborhoods. Through the National Fund for Popular Housing (FONAVIPO), the government is preparing two phases of a low-cost housing project: the first through the mayor's office, based on donations, and the second through nongovernmental organizations, based on credit.
In rural areas, ARENA is paving and repairing roads, using the National Reconstruction Plan that came out of the peace accords for its campaign. Not a bag of cement goes toward helping the population without being advertised in the newspapers.
This right-wing party is confident that it will win, and surveys up to now show it in first place. It projects itself as the party of change, the party that achieved peace in El Salvador and will also attain the country's reconstruction and economic development. The FMLN has already declared itself incapable of competing with ARENA's massive media propaganda, since the resources available to Cristiani's party are almost endless.
The Left: In Search of an Electoral FormulaAmong the left, and specifically within the FMLN, the debate has centered on possible alliances, the electoral program and candidates. The FMLN has emphasized the importance of these elections, because only with a victory of the democratic forces will the country continue to change and the accords continue to be fulfilled. But what does victory mean and how will it be achieved? This is where discrepancies arise.
In the FMLN and among other affected parties, there are two different perspectives on electoral participation, similar to what happened in the crisis arising from the still-incomplete purge of the armed forces.
The People's Revolutionary Army (ERP) and the National Resistance (RN) maintain that, at the current time, the FMLN should move toward the political center. This means seeking a candidate that would allow for the formation of a government of national unity based on concertación. To participate alone as the left would only polarize the electorate. The left should therefore collaborate in forming a center alliance that includes all the left parties (FMLN, CD and MNR) and the Christian Democrats; and it should support the candidacy of Abraham Rodríguez, a long-time PDC leader who is recognized as honest, and is a member of the Ad Hoc Commission that evaluated army officials and recommended their purging.
The Popular Liberation Forces (FPL), Communist Party (PC) and Revolutionary Party of Central American Workers (PRTC) have a different position. These three FMLN organizations maintain that it is time for the left (FMLN, CD and MNR) to take its corresponding historic place by entering the first round of the elections united and without alliances, in order to test the strength won over so many years of struggle. The pact with the Christian Democrats would only be effective for the almost-sure second round of voting. (A first round is only definitive if one candidate wins more than 50% of the vote). If in the first round the PDC were to win more votes than the left alliance, the latter would put its support behind the PDC candidate, and vice versa.
But there is not even full consensus within these two prevailing points of view. On May 16, at the closure of the FPL's national congress, 10,000 militants publicly gave their support to Rubén Zamora and Facundo Guardado for presidential and vice presidential candidates, respectively. Zamora had already been declared as a presidential candidate by the Democratic Convergence. The PC and PRTC, though they agree that the left should go to the first round as a bloc, do not agree with the Zamora-Guardado slate.
Shafick Handal, the FMLN general coordinator, announced that the party would distribute voting boxes in parks, schools and all public places so that the people themselves would choose the presidential formula with which the former guerrillas should enter the electoral race, without having to be affiliated with one of the FMLN's five organizations.
But the ERP-RN proposal hit a major snag on May 23, when Fidel Chávez Mena, foreign minister during the Duarte presidency, beat out Abraham Rodríguez in the Christian Democrats' primary elections, and was declared the official PDC presidential candidate. On the eve of the vote, Chávez Mena had stated that the PDC would enter the first electoral round alone.
While that PDC decision would seem to have resolved the internal FMLN debate de facto, yet another issue seems to have taken its place. The danger of a split now resides above all in the alliance with the CD and the MNR. The ERP and RN, upon seeing the road to a possible alliance with the Christian Democrats blocked, have now agreed that the FMLN's formula should be "purely left," but argue that both the presidential and vice presidential candidates should be from the FMLN. The name of Shafick Handal, who is also the PC secretary general, is the one heard most as a possible candidate.
This position creates problems with the CD, since it appears that Zamora's candidacy is not negotiable, as has become apparent in speeches and declarations by the Convergence and by Zamora himself. Thus, if the FMLN decides to ally with the CD but rejects Zamora's candidacy, the CD could enter the election race alone.
Obviously, any splits within the left bloc will benefit ARENA. But, despite the diversity of positions among the FMLN's five organizations, unity does not appear to be at risk there. Almost all of their general secretaries have assured that "the FMLN will enter the elections united," which presupposes a willingness to resolve all the issues of method, strategy and candidates.
All polls show that two election rounds will be needed if the left forms its own bloc. But if the FMLN and the CD are unable to satisfactorily resolve the candidate question, they could end up serving ARENA a first-round electoral victory on a silver platter.
All this shows how easily the left has plunged headlong onto the rough road of the electoral process, leaving aisde the real and enormous problems of Salvadoran society as it gets caught up in its differences.
And the Peace Accords?While electoral activity has taken the center of political attention away from fulfillment of the peace accords for the time being, the two realities are not contradictory. An electoral agenda that hopes to stress the needs and interests of the Salvadoran majority will have to include all the many and very important aspects of the accords that have not yet been fulfilled. In fact, the road of the accords is full of potholes, and future ARENA government, whose interests are adversely affected by the accords, will have no interest in filling them.
With respect to land transfers, the first of three phases has not even been finished in a process that was to have concluded in January 1993. The installation--and only the installation--of the Economic and Social Concertación Forum is the only economic aspect of the peace accords that has been met. This forum is made up of representatives from the government, private enterprise and labor. On May 27, labor's representatives withdrew, citing the unwillingness of the other two sectors to comply with the agreements made regarding union rights and freedoms. Everything indicates that the government and business sectors are participating in the forum because the accords demand it, not because they have any intention of changing the rules of the economic game that have engendered so much poverty in El Salvador.
With regard to the formation and deployment of the new National Civil Police, created as part of the accords to replace the repressive security forces, the need to facilitate its implementation is recognized, but it has only actually begun to operate in the districts of Cabañas and Chalatenango--those with the lowest population and crime levels in the entire country. In the other 12 districts, the only operating security force is the old National Police, which has already shown signs that it is still faithful to the repressive methods and human rights violations that it always employed in the past.
Fulfillment of the overriding recommendations of the Ad Hoc and Truth Commissions is still pending. It remains to be seen whether the purging of the armed forces will conclude on schedule in June. Far more has yet to be done to comply with the Truth Commission's recommendations, almost forgotten with the rushed law of unconditional amnesty passed in the Assembly by the country’s three rightwing parties.
The fulfillment of the accords is vital to the genuine transformation of the Salvadoran state and to putting the nation on the road toward an authentic democratization process. Paradoxically, though the fulfillment of the accords appears to have less relevance for the political forces inside the country, which are so wrapped up in the electoral contest, the international community continues to be alert and determined. This includes the United Nations secretary general, the Group of Friendly Nations, the European Community and the US government. In May, 146 US congress people sent a letter to President Cristiani demanding fulfillment of the accords and implementation of the recommendations of the Ad Hoc and Truth Commissions as quickly as possible.
A Blow to Disabled VeteransThere is still news of a murder almost every day in El Salvador. The motive--whether it is a common crime or political revenge--is never clear. But some of the victims present unmistakable evidence of having been killed by the methods the death squads used, which was taken up with real concern in the most recent UN observer mission (ONUSAL) report on human rights in El Salvador. This breeds fear, insecurity and confusion, especially among San Salvador's population, causing some to even call for more presence and action by the former security forces.
Where there was no confusion was in the repression unleashed by the riot squads of the old National Police against a joint march of disabled war veterans from the armed forces and the FMLN on May 20. The vets had joined forces to demand fulfillment of government agreements on social and medical benefits for former combatants and facilities for their reintegration into the productive life of the country. When the procession neared the central government offices, wire barricades and the riot squad were awaiting the marchers, led by blind veterans and those in wheelchairs. The riot squad dispersed the demonstrators first with tear gas, but then started using bullets, which killed two demonstrators marching in solidarity with the veterans. According to Cristiani himself, the police officer who shot the deadly bullets will be punished to the full extent of the law--when he is found.
The tragic event provoked a strong reaction among the most diverse sectors--which was somewhat surprising in a country where assassinations were daily fare for may years. But this was the first repression undertaken brazenly by the police since the signing of the peace accords. Furthermore, the fact that it was against disabled war veterans, even including the police's own former army buddies, incensed the population even more. The veterans with disabilities feel that they have been abandoned by their leaders, including those of the FMLN, and the increasing awareness about their situation.
The overriding issue around this government-executed repression, however, is that it could be the first of a series of similar actions aimed at counteracting the fulfillment of the accords. In some ways, it is to ARENA's advantage to keep the country in a kind of "controlled turmoil," to make it appear that the only ones who can control the situation are those currently holding political, military and economic power.
The May 20 killings are a tangible indication of what neglecting or postponing the fulfillment of the accords could mean for the country, as should become apparent to the left in its interminable electoral debates. In these months it has become clear that, while the election issues are a source of dispute within the FMLN, the accords are a source of unity within it, and also link the party to a population anxious for change.
For many months now, the FMLN's General Command has only shown itself united and in agreement on two occasions. The first was on May 13, when it put fulfillment of the accords and the Ad Hoc and Truth Commissions' recommendations on the agenda once again by demanding compliance from the government and pressure and verification from ONUSAL. The other was on May 20, the day the disabled veterans' march was repressed. Top FMLN leaders appeared at the scene of the incident and unanimously asserted that the methods the government used belong to the past, and that they will continue struggling by peaceful means for fulfillment of the agreements the government made with former FMLN and army combatants.
Weaknesses in the FMLN and the Armed ForcesTwo other recent events have major significance for the current historic moment: the discovery of major arms arsenals belonging to organizations of the FMLN, and the public disclosure for the first time in two years of divisions within the armed forces.
The apparently accidental discovery of an enormous arms arsenal hidden beneath a mechanics shop in a Managua neighborhood, property of the FPL (see "The Month," this issue, for details), as well as of another, much smaller arsenal outside San Salvador, property of the ERP, has given the government and army an ace with which to trump the FMLN before the UN and Salvadoran people for not complying with the destruction of all its weapons. Salvadoran newspapers highlighted the two incidents on their front pages, and both the FPL and ERP manifested their willingness to clarify the affair and collaborate to their greatest ability. The FMLN has reiterated emphatically that taking up arms again is not on its agenda and argues that such incidents are normal in a post-war period. In the words of Juan Ramón Medreano, "It should be no surprise that arms continue to be found, since all of them could not be inventoried due to ignorance of their location." The war has left unaccounted-for weapons belonging to both the government's dissolved civil defense forces and the former guerrilla movement all over the country.
Be that as it may, the government has used these vents to present itself as the one who has complied and the FMLN as the one who has not. "The armed forces have already fully complied, and the FMLN intends to continue destabilizing the country in order to set up another system," declared General Mauricio Vargas, a moderate officer from the government's negotiating team.
The military also has internal problems, and for the first time in many years they have been made public. Two letters were sent to the media, signed by the "Young Officers of the ARmed Forces (JOFA)." For reasons of security there were no individual signatures. The first says that the current army brass who are soon to "resign" as part of the purge, intend to turn their posts over to other officers with known anti-democratic pasts, which would mean that the institution's current structure and mentality would not change as required by this new era. The young officers propose their own four candidates for the army's highest positions, officers whom they characterize as respectful of human rights and desirous of adapting to the country's new situation.
In the second letter, the young officers denounce President Cristiani's intention of appointing officers from the 38th class of the Military School, which is tied closely to the tandona (the class of those subject to the purge), to the Ministry of Defense and High Command.
Though the army leadership denies the existence of this internal division, everyone knows that the letters are real and reflect reality. The left should take them at their word and take very seriously these young military officers who have joined the population's cry for a truly peaceful country.