Peace Accords Victim of ARENA Contradictions
The lack of compliance with the peace accords and the launching of foolhardy economic “plan” reflect a government devoid of defined leadership, dominated by contradictory forces and lacking in credibility with the people.
Juan Hernández Pico, SJ
Land transfers and credits for former combatants in rural areas, new housing settlements for the demobilized and civilian reinsertion programs for former military are burning and still pending issues from the peace accords. Failure to fulfill these points is exhausting the patience of the ex combatants and a moment of perhaps uncontrollable public confrontation is approaching. The government's inability to reschedule these agreements reveals not only a lack of political will, or of funds, but a lack of authority, what the February 15 pronouncement of the Central American University (UCA) calls "a problem of power."
Systematic Delay in the Peace AccordsImportant and rapid advances were made in transferring land during November and December 1994, after the government and the FMLN promised in October to speed up the process. But the rhythm has slowed again since the beginning of 1995. According to the FMLN, 47% of those who should benefit from land transfers had not received anything by mid February. Everything indicates that the resignation of the minister of agriculture (accused of corruption), and the appearance of new officials linked to ultra right sectors of ARENA at the head of the Land Bank and numerous departmental offices played a role in this. The resignation of the housing minister, also for corruption, has left President Armando Calderón Sol without two of his closest Cabinet collaborators, reducing his executive power. There is now little doubt that the political aim of paralyzing the government and, above all, frustrating the fulfillment of the peace accords is behind the right's numerous accusations of corruption against other members of the right.
The slow funneling of credit to agricultural production also seems aimed at sabotaging the peace accord's land redistribution policy. If credit one of the most important instruments of democratization does not arrive in time for the agricultural cycle, it could undermine the meaning of land distribution. The economic Cabinet, which wants the available income to finance luxury goods and financial speculation, does not see the urgency, partly because it has no policy that plans for the country's food self sufficiency.
All of the socioeconomic measures contemplated in the peace accords are suffering systematic delay. The provision of housing to ex combatants has not even begun, nor has the delivery of pensions to war wounded. The Social Economic Forums, which discussed the legal labor frameworks of economic policies, have not been reinitiated; they were interrupted during the electoral campaign almost two years ago. The public discussion of the recent government economic "plan" would have been the best moment to reopen the Forum, but that did not happen.
Although there is talk of installing the tripartite consulting group contemplated in the new labor code into the Labor Ministry, this group would be restricted to resolving employer labor relations. It is not designed to deal with socioeconomic policy.
In addition, nothing has been done to comply with the recommendations of the Truth Commission or the Joint Group regarding judicial reforms or the investigation of death squads.
Behind the ViolenceThe most serious aspect of El Salvador's situation is that the government lacks real unified responsibility, as opposed to nominal unity, since it is fragmented by its internal conflicts. While militarism and the commitment to democracy are disputed in the national arena, groups of diverse economic backgrounds are fighting over control within the government arena.
Demobilized members of the armed forces, given their unsatisfied needs and the frustration of feeling deceived, have launched violent demonstrations, taking over public buildings and holding hostages. At the end of January they occupied the National Assembly and tried to take over the Supreme Court and other central government institutions. The anti riot battalion of the new Civil National Police (PNC) responded moderately and with a certain level of impotence. The PNC director insisted that its assigned budget was too low.
Just a few days later, with the first takeover resolved, another attempt, this time unsuccessful, was made to take over the Assembly. On that occasion the opposition representatives on the left abandoned the hall, protesting that they were surrounded by the armed forces. The presence of the armed forces in the National Assembly does not appear to have resulted from a presidential order, but from an unconstitutional initiative of the Assembly president, which the President of the Republic later had to cover and guarantee.
In addition, violent demonstrations were held in front of the presidential offices when Spanish President Felipe González was in El Salvador in February. González and Salvadoran President Calderón Sol, who were signing various agreements, had to be rapidly transported to the airport to make sure that the tear gas did not reach them.
On all these occasions the reasonable demands of the demobilized were manipulated by anti democratic forces opposed to the fulfillment of the peace accords; they had been given arms that only the army or "death squad" type paramilitary forces could have. Baseless promises not covered in the agreements were made to former civil defense members and district patrols to get them to join the protests. This manipulation also aimed to demonstrate the weakness of PNC security to the population and show the new administration's inability to respond to the people. Another facet of the goal was to challenge the Spanish government's expressed determination to condition Spanish credits and investments in El Salvador on fulfillment of the peace accords.
The forces within the governmental structures that are gambling on the return of an authoritarian regime in which the military will increase its power again have played an intelligent game ever since the end of the war. They have constantly haggled over the budget to develop the PNC and continuously infiltrated it with members of the former security forces, without subjecting them to an aptitude test within the parameters of the new security doctrine.
In two cases, this infiltration has not been by individuals but by entire specialized bodies; the Commission to Investigate Criminal Acts and the Special Narcotics Unit. This last case was taken to ONUSAL with the demand that what is today called the Narcotics Detachment (DAN) be drastically cleansed. This provoked those who were purged to go on a strike, which has lasted more than a month with the support of some other allies.
Poll DataThe results of all of this conspiring are reflected in public opinion. A poll done by the Central American University's Institute of Public Opinion (IUDOP) while the Assembly was occupied and the DAN strike within the PNC had already begun, indicates that 63% of the population holds the government primarily responsible for the disturbances. Only 4.6% believe that the demobilized armed forces members were responsible. A large part of the population (45%) considers crime and delinquency to be the greatest problem, while 40% believe that the main problems are economic. More than 70% think the government is not at all or only very slightly concerned about resolving these two types of problems.
Considering that 33% of the population views the PNC actions as good or very good and another 48% considers them acceptable, it would appear that the population is complaining not about the PNC's activities but rather about its insufficiencies, perhaps precisely because it is not supported by the government.
The Salvadoran population identified the causes of the recent strikes and demonstrations well; 35% blame it on the failure to fulfill the peace accords, and 31% on the economic crisis. The country is aware of the general crisis and 69% believe that there will be many social conflicts in 1995.
PrivatizationsWeekly conflicts have erupted in some public institutions since the start of the year, the great majority expressing worker opposition to future privatization of these institutions. The cycle of conflicts began with the INPEP workers, who manage the pension funds for state workers. They charged that the collective bargaining agreement worked out between management and the union has not been ratified by the Housing Ministry since October 1994.
Pension funds are probably the most critical section in any privatization process, because the funds imply huge capital for any audacious private insurer who adds them to its financial or bank portfolio. With this capital one could later buy shares in other state companies, such as communications (ANTEL) or electricity (CEL).
ANTEL workers have held street demonstrations and even decided to hold work stoppages in international telephone communications. The Union of the Salvadoran Social Security Institute (STISS) took over the institute's offices, and was the only group the PNC acted against with great force. The water and sewer workers (ANDA) and those of the Public Works Ministry (ATMOP) are also ready to initiate new conflicts.
Within the private sector the most significant actions have been accusations by textile piecework industry workers from the San Marcos Free Zone. They took advantage of an exposition of piecework machinery in the Hotel El Salvador to denounce the mistreatment to which they are subjected.
Everyone knows that the maquiladoras (piecework assembly plants) are infamous for not respecting labor rights, that they maintain inhuman and even illegal working hours and use high unemployment rates as blackmail to stop any protests. At this moment, certain private enterprise figures are demanding that the Labor Ministry investigate the maquiladoras suspected of such violations, adding that it would be unjust to judge the whole industry based on isolated cases of injustice.
A Plan that Does Not ConvinceOn February 2, President Calderón Sol defined in a speech to the nation what is erroneously referred to as an economic "plan." It was obvious that the government has no clear and comprehensive strategy for El Salvador's economic development. Even after some 20 days of public debate. the measures that were initially "floated" remain: maintaining a fixed rate of the colón against the dollar (although it is not clear what rate), dropping both the ceiling and the floor of taxes (but much more gradually and less drastically than had been initially announced), increasing fiscal efficiency (not by upping the value added tax at this time, but by emphasizing more complete coverage in collecting current taxes) and privatizations.
For some analysts, the key is in the privatizations; INPEP first, followed by ANTEL, CEL, etc. These would attract the kind of financial, industrial, export/import capital that would make use of these measures. Meanwhile, the state supports this with more efficient fiscal collection. The discussions before the announcement of the final plan at least focused the tax issue with less imprudence, bringing with it the decision not to tax the majorities by increasing the value added tax.
Medium and small businesses, unions, social organizations, the Church, the universities and research centers (with the exception of FUSADES) and even some large business sectors, have all criticized this "plan." The multilateral financial institutions expressed considerable reservations about it as well.
Before the government could launch a publicity campaign in favor of the measures, the population made its views known in the IUDOP UCA poll. Of those polled, 58% were aware of the measures, of whom 61% did not agree with them and 19.5% did. Almost the same majority (60.8%) considered that these measures would only benefit the country's rich. One third considered that the country's economy will not improve with the measures and another third think it will improve a little bit. Most consider that the main negative impacts will be felt in employment and agricultural production.
The hyperbolic language the government used to present its plan as El Salvador's key to open the door to the global economy does not seem to have convinced the majority. The government's arrogance and lack of realism in designating El Salvador "the Hong Kong of Central America" and insinuating that a platform of Central American regional integration is no longer necessary has not been well received in the country.
Church and MediaThe failure to fulfill the peace accords, the campaign against the Civil National Police, the manipulation of the just demands of the demobilized armed forces personnel and the launching of a conflictive economic "plan" that does not emerge from the discussion platform contemplated in the accords (the Social Economic Forum) all reflect a government without definite leadership, dominated by fragmented and contradictory forces. In these conditions the democratization process implied by the peace accords will probably take a step backward.
Perhaps the most disturbing result of the UCA opinion poll deals with people's measure of confidence in various institutions. Over half of the population (53.5%) has no confidence in the political parties, and 70.5% has no confidence in either the government as a whole or in the Justice Department specifically. The winners were the Catholic Church (in which 62.5% expressed much or some confidence) and the media (59.6%).
For all that, in El Salvador at the beginning of 1995, there is not yet any institution that offers a hopeful political alternative from another perspective.