Shots Fired Against The Peace Accords
On April 30th the UN observers’ mission left El Salvador, but nobody, not even the UN, thinks that the peace process is guaranteed. There is no certainty that the peace accords signed in 1992 are irreversible.
Juan Hernández Pico, SJ
The month of March closed on a pathetic note in El Salvador. Wounded and disabled war veterans from both the armed forces and the FMLN were beaten in the streets of San Salvador by the National Civil Police (PNC). The war disabled were trying to march to the Central American Presidential Summit, taking place in the Salvadoran capital at the time. The scene resembled the "good old days" of the former security forces. Tear gas was thrown, rubber bullets sailed through the air and the disabled veterans, unable to escape, had to submit to the bloody beatings that finally contained the demonstration.
The uncut images on the TV news that night were undeniable. The ONUSAL director spoke that same day of the PNC's "exaggerated zeal" in its actions to halt the demonstration, but it was a muted diplomatic evaluation. The Human Rights Prosecutor spoke much more harshly.
Are the Peace Accords Now Irreversible?The shocking images caused indignation and sorrow that day. Is the image of a presidential summit more valuable than the frustration of those who fought in the war? Are these images an omen? Are the peace accords now irreversible? Are human rights now guaranteed? Has the National Civil Police now assimilated the criteria of the new security doctrine: that subordinates should not obey clearly unjust and immoral orders?
"If they treat green firewood this way, how will they treat the dried wood?" wondered many. If the disabled from one side or the other who gave part of their body for the country or the people are so oppressed when they march for their rights, what will happen to workers or state employees who oppose privatization, to peasants who demand land transfers or to workers in piecework assembly plants (maquilas)? UN Secretary General Boutros Ghali had recognized days earlier that the fund for the war disabled has not yet begun to function.
According to a Central American University (UCA) poll, 69% of Salvadorans predict that 1995 will be a year with many social conflicts. This has proven true since the beginning of the year, and the situation got much worse in March. There was the case of the war disabled, as well as that of the maquila workers. In the tax free zone anti riot police repressed maquila workers and imprisoned union organizers, including the FENASTRAS general secretary, putting them at the disposition of the courts.
On March 13, the government deployed the armed forces as logistical support for a National Civil Police patrol, awakening yet another dramatic memory: the army in the streets. A majority of the population most likely supported this extreme measure, however, given that they are tired of suffering from crime and delinquency. On March 28, the President sent the National Assembly a report on his decision, but it did not say how many soldiers had been deployed, in what concrete activities they are involved, or until what date they will be deployed. He also did not leave the continuation or renewal of the deployment decision in the Assembly's hands. All of this is unconstitutional. In any case, the overarching issue is that non fulfillment of the peace accords by the government and at times by the FMLN has led to general frustration.
Ghali: There Is No SecurityThe panorama did not darken overnight. The governments of Cristiani and Calderón Sol have repeatedly failed to fulfill some of the most important peace accords, and have now stopped even trying to seriously fulfill them. The UN presence in El Salvador will end on April 30, and it is now clear that ONUSAL will leave the country without being able to testify to the fulfillment of the accords and the irreversibility and success of the peace process as a whole.
On March 24, UN Secretary General Boutros Ghali, in his final report to the Security Council before ONUSAL's withdrawal, stated that there has been "huge progress" in El Salvador. "From a violent and closed society," he comments, "toward a democratic order in which there is the consolidation of protection of human rights and free expression." But, he adds, with a force hard to subdue, "various commitments still need to be fulfilled before the Salvadoran peace process can be considered a success. Regrettably, these commitments refer to aspects of the peace accords of such importance that, as long as they are not fulfilled, the irreversible nature of the peace process will remain in question." Some of those aspects, the report adds, "could become explosive and need to be neutralized promptly."
The seriousness of this evaluation escapes no one, since the success and irreversibility of the Salvadoran peace process are crucial to prove the UN's ability to be an adequate instrument for building peace in internal conflicts in many other countries.
Extend ONUSAL?The situation is reaching its limit. Forces within ARENA, the governing party, are blocking any advance in the fulfillment of the accords in both the executive and the National Assembly, The FMLN the other signer of the accords is divided.
Both these realities create obstacles that are hard to surmount, as Boutros Ghali points out. He says that the consequences a failure to fulfill "various of the solemn promises contracted in Chapultepec" would offer a basis to present "convincing arguments in favor of maintaining the ONUSAL presence after April 30, 1995." He adds that "a recommendation was seriously studied, but I refrained from following it, given the clear indications from Security Council members that the moment had come to bring ONUSAL to a close."
Quite simply, the five governments with permanent seats and veto power on the Security Council the United States, Russia, France, China and Great Britain do not want to keep financing ONUSAL. In reality, they do not believe that the possible "reversibility" of the peace process that Boutros Ghali speaks of could end in renewed war in the short run, and any other incidents can be considered mere imperfections. It is a regrettable lack of political will by the Security Council and, above all, by the United States, to consolidate the achievements of peace in this small country in which the US financed war for so many years.
Explosive ProblemsForces within the Salvadoran government continually backpedal the peace accord commitments that President Calderón Sol reaffirms, and to date there has been no leadership to neutralize them. Either the President does not command as he should or they do not obey. Boutros Ghali does not want to give the government an easy out from this situation. In his report, he emphasizes that Calderón Sol is the President through elections "legitimately realized by the reforms that followed the peace accords and with United Nations participation. His government has a heavy and direct responsibility, which the President has fully accepted, to assure that all the commitments derived from the accords are fulfilled as rapidly as possible."
The Secretary General notes that it is important for the government to put a priority on applying the accords in the period remaining before ONUSAL's withdrawal, beginning with those whose fulfillment depends solely on the executive. He notes that there has been particular opposition in the government to El Salvador adhering to international human rights treaties, the land transfer programs and electoral reform. He later insists that more than half of the potential beneficiaries have not received land titles and that many others have no access to credit.
The UN also emphasizes the issue of marginal communities, subsidies for urban housing and the consolidation of those communities that emerged due to internal displacement and repatriations during the war. Ghali considers this set of problems to be one of the most "explosive" and says it should be resolved before ONUSAL leaves the country, since the reduced UN group that will remain to verify the accords will be less able to help in so complex an operation.
The report also emphasizes the urgent need to strengthen the National Civil Police so that public security will be more efficient, function with greater respect for human rights and not go back into armed forces hands. It stresses the need to continue reforming the judicial institutions, strengthen the Human Rights Office and make the Fund for Protection of War Wounded and Disabled functional. Just days before the repression the disabled suffered during their demonstration, the UN Secretary General identified the fact that this fund is not functioning as "a potential motive of disquiet."
"Maquiladoras" in the StruggleThe maquila industry experienced incessant and surprising agitation throughout March. The belligerent way the women assembly workers have reacted is surprising, as is the militancy of the union leaders who have supported them. To many it never seemed possible that labor needs would be demanded with such force in this sector.
Piecework industries have come to our countries to take advantage of high unemployment rates, low salaries and absence of union organizing. This reality is couched in the euphemism "labor factor flexibility," which means that the workers are continually threatened with firing and have no benefits. The owners enjoy high production volume at minimum cost, while the country lives with the threat of industry flight at any moment. Since there is no investment in land or construction, the piecework assembly plant can transfer its patents and technology from one country to another with ease and low cost.
A "Conspiracy"The key to the perseverance of the maquila workers' struggle, said President Calderón Sol, was to be found in a "conspiracy" between US union workers and their Salvadoran colleagues to get the Asian and US piecework industries also to invest and put jobs in the United States. By mid February no one mentioned this anymore. They had accepted the need to investigate the irregularities in the maquilas. "It is impossible to allow abuses," commented the President of the Republic at that moment. "We have labor and penal laws that can be applied, and those responsible must be subject to proceedings through the General Fiscal Office of the Republic."
He then indicated that he had ordered the Ministry of Labor to begin inspections. But on March 11, he maintained that behind the accusations against the piecework industries and the protests and demands of the workers "exist foreign union interests." US sectors, he said, "want to demonstrate that labor laws are not respected in the region." The goal of the "conspiracy" was also to prevent the Central American region from joining the Free Trade Association, and, later, the Free Trade Area of the Americas.
President Calderón has not asked if the problem might not be that El Salvador's tax free zones do not respect labor laws. Suspiciously, labor leaders from the "democratic" tendency used by private enterprise and the government to divide the labor movement are the ones who have accused leftist union leaders of getting money from US unions to finance the maquiladora protests.
Paradises that are HellMost maquila workers are women, and they appear to have reached the limit of their endurance. They now are not only denouncing the failure to pay overtime, the below minimum wages and the lack of benefits, work safety or job security. They are also denouncing bad treatment, sexual abuse, impediments to go to medical appointments, etc. With no shame, the maquila owners reaffirm that they want no union organizing and warn of the possible consequences of unionization. "The strikes and labor interruptions generate drops in production, cost rises and the loss of clients, because they damage the company's image," declared one of the owners of "Mandarín International," from the San Marcos tax free zone.
A few weeks later the National Civil Police violently interrupted a work stoppage in JATEX, a maquila in the El Progreso zone, where the FENASTRAS general secretary was imprisoned and brought before a judge. In the following days, the PNC anti riot police removed protesting workers from another assembly plant and later removed workers who had occupied a food processing plant.
The National Association of Private Enterprise (ANEP) has met with union leaders and the Superior Labor Council has also addressed the maquila issue. After all these crises, the worker owner relationship will not be able to go on as if nothing had happened, as if peace does not include jobs paid with a minimum of justice and labor relations that respect dignity.
No one wants jobs to be lost, but the volume of jobs generated by the maquilas should also not be exaggerated. It vacillates between 50,000 and 65,000, some 2.5% of the economically active population. But, according to FUSADES publications, jobs that cost investors 577.5 colóns a month ($0.33 an hour), when the current minimum wage in El Salvador is 810 colóns a month, cannot be defended with no questions asked.
The key to all of this is that, according to the Central Reserve Bank, the maquilas now produce 34% of total Salvadoran exports. It is evident that the solution to this dilemma between jobs and just labor treatment must come from legal dispositions that unite the States in the institutionalization of universal "brakes" on these industrial and fiscal "paradises" that are hell for the workers.
Social DevelopmentOn March 27, President Calderón Sol spoke to the country on national TV and radio. He had returned from the Copenhagen summit two weeks earlier. In his speech he proposed a social development plan that would continue beyond his current term in office. He recognized the chronic character of the country's poverty, setting aside the demagogic rhetoric from his electoral campaign, when he spoke of the progress El Salvador experienced during the first ARENA government.
This time Calderón Sol announced that, by 1999, 50% of the national budget will be assigned to social investment that attacks poverty and develops human capital. So called "social spending" is currently 28.6% of the national budget.
The President mentioned various concrete goals for 1999: reduce illiteracy to 15%, supply potable water to 90% of the urban population and to 50% in the rural areas, introduce a system of "basic health services," construct or improve 200,000 houses all of this during his presidential term and reform social security, making each user the supervisor of his or her own personal pension fund.
In addition, he proposes to create decentralized local development conditions through production and job sources, family protection, extension of sports opportunities and the promotion of small and micro enterprises, all of which are measures oriented to detain rural to urban migration.
With What Money?The country's political and cultural forces reacted to the announcement by noting the importance of recognizing that the poverty problem is structural although Calderón Sol appears to still be "confused "on this point. He indicated that "the problems of extreme poverty began during the war," failing to recognize that the roots go back much further and that it has intensified due to structural adjustment economic plans that have not promoted production and jobs.
The presidential candidate of the leftist coalition, Rubén Zamora, offered the President the benefit of the doubt, as long as he explains how he plans to finance his announced social development. If the financing comes from income from privatizing state businesses, Zamora noted, it would only be temporary financing. But if the country's tax structure is reformed so that profits come from the capital and assets of the wealthiest, together with a continual drop in the military budget, the social spending would be covered and the country could count on a stable financing source for this ambitious plan.
The Ministries of Economy and the Treasury mentioned that they are requesting 800 billion colóns from the World Bank and the Interamerican Development Bank to promote the plan. The Treasury Minister indicated that, "with the current modernization of the state and the redefinition of appropriate state activities, the growth in efficiency in all fields will free up funds to invest in these areas." Behind these cryptic words is probably hidden what Zamora alluded to: income from privatization. This becomes even clearer when one notes that social spending is targeted to begin increasing in 1996, the same time privatization is expected.
New ProsecutorThe National Assembly elected a new Human Rights Prosecutor, Victoria Marina Velázquez de Avilés, with the necessary two thirds vote. As in the Supreme Court elections, the representatives delayed almost four weeks beyond the deadline.
In the end, however, the election was not defined as it had been in the Supreme Court case by fatigue or party interests that annulled the competent and worthy candidates. Doctor Velázquez was in charge of the Office of the Rights of the Child and performed her duties well. Her mission is now more important than ever. The Prosecutor's office will be in charge of investigating human rights abuses when the ONUSAL Human Rights division is closed. The fact that the UN in Geneva has removed El Salvador from the list of countries that need a human rights monitoring specialist makes the task of the Prosecutor's office even more important.
In her initial declarations, the new Prosecutor stated that she opposed the death penalty, currently under discussion in the Assembly. "One cannot expect a Human Rights Prosecutor to favor the death penalty if her task is to fight for dignified lives," she said. "History itself has demonstrated that the state has not resolved anything when it has tried to resolve its problems through repression, killing criminals. She condemned the violence against the disabled demonstrators, "even more when it is used excessively against particularly vulnerable demonstrators."
"We are Governing"Her declarations contrast with those of Joaquín Villalobos, co founder of the new Democratic Party. "We got out of the FMLN just in time," he said, accusing it of being behind the demonstration of the war disabled and calling it "the kind of thing that makes violence and chaos seem to be an end in themselves."
The same Villalobos, in a meeting held between Boutros Ghali and the five groups that formerly made up the FMLN, disagreed with Ghali's demanding report about the unfulfilled peace accords, stating that what is left to fulfill is "marginal."
For her part, National Assembly vice president Ana Guadalupe Martínez, of Villalobos' party, referred to the demonstration by the disabled war veterans in terms similar to those employed by the head of ARENA's legislative bench, Juan Duch. Finally, Juan Ramón Medrano, who heads the Democratic Party's bench, affirmed that, by carrying impressive weapons, the disabled "demonstrated that they were considering the concept of confrontation," so the PNC simply fulfilled its mission. In another context, Medrano naively declared that "now we are governing."
Little by little it is becoming clear that the groups that left the FMLN (the ERP and the RN) as well as the former MNR, which now make up the new Democratic Party, are not forming a center bloc, but are making common cause with the country's right. Few Salvadorans could imagine Roque Dalton, Rafael Arce Zablah, Guillermo Ungo or so many others who gave their lives for the people, acting this way.