Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 146 | Septiembre 1993


El Salvador

On all Fronts: Indecision Winning

Christianity has not demilitarized the country. Is it because he is unable or unwilling? What’s clear is that the armed forces has not changed much and has learned almost nothing.

Omar Serrano

Salvadoran reality does not seem to vary substantially; two old issues are still the most relevant. One is the intensifying tendency to neglect the most important aspects of the national agenda for transforming society as contained in the peace accords. The other is the apathy of a large part of the population towards becoming actively involved in the struggle to democratize the country.
Ever since the signing of the accords, the attitude of Alfredo Cristiani's government has been to "comply as little as possible" and only with the part necessary to satisfy the international community. More recently, both the government and the armed forces have taken advantage of the FMLN's interminable electoral discussions and the negative effects of the arms cache in Managua, to continue undermining fulfillment of the accords.
Sadly, ONUSAL, the United Nations observer mission in El Salvador, appears satisfied with the minimum achievements to date. Mexico, as the key country in the verification of the accords' fulfillment, has responded similarly, while the FMLN appears to have lost the ability to fight cohesively for the transformations that will bring democratization to the country.

Presidential Candidates

Although none of the parties have chosen their vice presidential candidate, almost all presidential candidates have been decided. Armando Calderón Sol, current mayor of the capital, is ARENA's candidate. Fidel Chávez Mena was ratified by the Christian Democrats (PDC), as was Rubén Zamora for the Democratic Convergence (CD) and the FMLN, while the National Revolutionary Movement chose its general secretary, Victor Valle.

The traditional National Conservative Party (PCN) continues, as in its better times, to bet on the military. Its presidential candidate is none other than General Rafael Bustillo, General Commander of the Salvadoran Air Force during the massive bombing of civilians in San Salvador during the November 1989 FMLN offensive in 1989; he is also connected, according to the Truth Commission report, to the assassination of the Jesuit priests.

It is almost assured that ARENA will go to the elections alone and that an alliance is possible between the leftist bloc (FMLN, CD and MNR) and the PDC, which occupies the country's political center. The FMLN's support of Rubén Zamora is explicit, but the MNR's is not, since it is considering an alliance with the PDC.

A recent poll by the Central American University (UCA) indicates that an alliance between the left and center would be needed to defeat ARENA in a second electoral round, if it did not win in a first one.

The UCA poll

The UCA made the results of its most recent poll public in the middle of July. The population sample was 1,200 people from different social sectors and from all the country's 14 provinces. The results in terms of political party preference were as follows: ARENA (26%), PDC (12%), FMLN (7%), CD (4%), PCN (2%), don't know or no response (47%).

The results show Cristiani's party with a sizable lead and, although this does not yet guarantee ARENA a victory in the 1994 elections, its 26% is undeniably a solid percentage. It and the PDC are the only parties that improved their place since an UCA poll at the beginning of 1993. The FMLN dropped from 9% to 7% and the Democratic Convergence from 12% to 4%.

The most notable aspect of the poll is the huge percentage of the population (47%) that is undecided or did not respond. It should be pointed out that the poll was carried out both before most of the parties had chosen their presidential candidates and before the discovery of the arms cache in Managua.

Why the Undecided?

The undecided have the results of the coming year's elections in their hands. Politicians of various persuasions have registered their strong conviction that such a large percentage of undecided must be because the population does not know the names of the parties' candidates. According to some, for example, now that the PCN has announced that General Bustillo is its candidate, the party's percentage will increase substantially because the military is "well liked" by the population.

A good portion of this 47% could belong to the left. The fact that all the left chose to back a single candidate, which was not known at the time of the poll, could help many to decide. On the other hand, there is still reticence in El Salvador to publicly express support for the former guerrillas, for fear of military or paramilitary reprisals. Although a good portion of those who did not respond or were undecided are potential votes for an FMLN CD alliance, the arms cache scandal in Managua could change their minds. The FMLN has lost credibility and sympathy among the population for hiding away weapons of war.

Analyzing the population's attitude as the year has progressed suggests that a good number of the 47% will even "throw in the towel" altogether, because it will not see any alternative that reflects its interests or will resolve its problems.

At the end of 1992, when the government refused to purge the armed forces, society responded with a massive mobilization. Virtually all sectors demanded the immediate departure of the named military leaders in fulfillment of the accords. But since then, society's participation in pushing for fulfillment has been diminishing.

There are various explanations for this attitude, one of which goes all the way back to the accord negotiations. The leaders, both in the government and in the FMLN, were the ones who essentially decided the country's future. Several FMLN leaders claim that continuous consultations were held with the base on both sides during the negotiation, but, without denying society's immense joy over the end of the armed conflict, the reality is that it was excluded from the process that culminated in the Chapultepec Accords.

The government's limited willingness to fulfill what it signed, especially starting with its refusal to purge the army, greatly undermined the hopes of many Salvadorans. At first they intuited and only later confirmed that the military leaders would not be touched and would remain in command. The sharp public divisions within the FMLN when it tried to negotiate the military purge, when it became enmeshed in electoral disputes and neglected to pressure for fulfillment of the accords, and, finally, when its authority to demand fulfillment crumbled after the arms cache discovery have also contributed to the skepticism of much of the population.

There is also skepticism because, up to now, the FMLN, whom many expected to put forward an alternative political project, does not appear to have either the time or the ability to include the most substantial points from the national agenda which are in only embryonic form in the peace accords in its electoral agenda.

Mexico's position

Some sectors of the international community also appear to be satisfied with the minimum gains to date. The goal of the peace accords is not only "to silence the guns," as the current head of ONUSAL has implied. The accords also encompass much more: laying foundations for democratizing a country in which human rights will be respected and the military forces are controlled by civil powers.

Until recently, the international community appeared willing to push for total fulfillment of the accords. But the visit in mid July of Mexico's President Carlos Salinas de Gortari indicated that Mexico no longer takes that position. Mexico is the Latin American country most involved in the Salvadoran peace process, but Salinas came to El Salvador only to seek new markets; he was not interested in whether or not there had been advances in fulfilling the accords. He acknowledged the efforts of the people and the government in the search for peace, but did not even mention the FMLN in any of his statements, implying that the only aspect that interested him was the existence of acceptable conditions to sell Mexican products in El Salvador.

Is ONUSAL Pulling Back?

The Mexican President's attitude can also be seen in the recent actions of the UN representatives in El Salvador. On July 26, ONUSAL completed two years in the country. In soundings by the media, most political parties, including ARENA and its ally, the PCN, evaluated ONUSAL's role positively. The mission's only mistake, in their view, was to accept the false arms inventory presented by the FMLN. It would appear that ONUSAL, or at least its new director, shares the view of the right and the military: that the fundamental goal of the accords is to disarm and break up the FMLN.

ONUSAL's attitude is also reflected in the seventh and final report by its Human Rights Division, which stresses "an advance in the country's respect for human rights." Nonetheless, the report goes on to state that the human rights situation of Salvadorans is still worrisome, and that there have been improvements in only two areas: tortures and forced disappearances. Yet two thirds of the report talks about the continuing violation of Salvadorans' most elemental rights: the right to life, housing, health, education, food, etc. Why is there this contradiction between the report's emphasis on the "advances" that have been made and the general situation it describes?
Of all the countries that currently have UN missions, El Salvador is the only one where there has been any success. Many of the world's governments are still watching the "little flea of America" because of its significance for the UN's new role. From this perspective, it may not be convenient for ONUSAL to recognize a "failure."
For some months, especially since the presentation of the Truth Commission's report, the Salvadoran extreme right has systematically attacked the UN presence in El Salvador through its newspaper, Diario de Hoy. The editorials frequently insist that it is time for ONUSAL to go home, just as all the purged military leaders have been saying. ONUSAL appears to be afraid of the extreme right and the government itself, which could use their traditional methods to destroy the mission. This may well be what underlies the UN's seeming satisfaction with only limited fulfillment of the accords.

US Coherence

Paradoxically, the country that financed and advised the Salvadoran army during twelve years of war has been the most consistent in pressuring for fulfillment of the accords. Without the clear position of the United States, not even minimal fulfillment would have been possible.

Two high level US officials visited El Salvador in July. The pro government media interpreted the visit by the US Army Southern Command chief in Panama as an expression of "US government support for the Salvadoran army." But they had said the same after the earlier visit of Gen. Colin Powell, armed forces chief of staff, even though he came to pressure the Salvadoran military to speed up the purges.

The US position became clearer with the visit from the US Ambassador to the United Nations. From the moment she arrived, she made clear that she was there to measure the progress of and obstacles to fulfillment of the peace accords. Her agenda included a tour of the Civil National Police (PNC) Academy and a trip to areas in the country's interior where this new security body is already operating. The use of the PNC is key to the country's democratization and to the climate of confidence needed for the March 1994 elections. The United States decided to give its old embassy headquarters over to be used as the PNC building, since the force lacks funds. These actions show that up to now the Clinton administration has clearly supported the fulfillment of the accords.

The Military Still Hammering Away

One of the essential transformations necessary for El Salvador's democratization is the demilitarization of society. Without the military's real submission to civilian power, many other changes considered in the accords will be difficult to fulfill. The Salvadoran government's major non compliance with the accords has been its failure to demilitarize the country. Has Cristiani not done so because he cannot or because he does not want to? On July 16, he ordered 3,000 army soldiers to the country's interior on a public security mission: to control increasing delinquency in the country.

In previous months, using the pretext that the National Police the only old security force still in existence was insufficient to control crime, Cristiani added members of the extinct elite army battalions and agents of the other two dissolved security forces to that body, in violation of the accords. The President used the same argument to send the army out in July, which also violates the Constitution. Constitutional reforms resulting from the accords leave the army with only two missions: to protect national territory and national sovereignty.

Although the growth of crime is one of the Salvadoran people's greatest concerns, the President's intention is not to protect Salvadorans. He is sending a clear message about the armed forces with this and other decisions. Cristiani is saying or to be more exact, the military is saying through him that the armed forces will go on controlling the country because it has the real power. The military still believes that El Salvador will not move forward without it.

The context, discourses and protocol of the ceremony in which former defense minister General Ponce handed over control to Colonel Corado made clear that the armed forces has changed little and learned almost nothing.

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