UN Urges Greater Progress in Peace Agreement
UN representative Marrack Goulding's visit to El Salvador in August was convincing: advances had to be made in complying with the accords according to the new calendar drawn up, leaving debate to one side. Following his visit, there were indeed advances in demilitarization and political transformations.
The most thorny issues are socioeconomic: the transfer of lands as stipulated by the Chapultepec accords and the continuing advance—never negotiated or agreed to—of the Cristiani government's neoliberal economic measures.
The political-military transformations seem to have made substantial headway due to the international pressure. Facing an evaluation of the peace process announced by ONUSAL, the UN peacekeeping forces stationed in the country, both sides have made efforts to move forward. After the evaluation, the UN Secretary General, in consultation with the Security Council, will take the measures necessary to guarantee the success of the process.
Before this announcement, each side, as usual, accused the other of non-compliance. But when UN Secretary General Boutros-Ghali endorsed the progress of the accords, and stressed October 31 as a key date, an element of pressure was introduced. At the same time, however, this adds some new difficulties to steady progress.
In military terms, the first classes have started at the new Academy of Public Security, which should assure that the first contingent of civilian police would begin operating in February 1993. The armed forces have also continued with their demobilization plan. The elite rapid deployment battalion "Ramón Belloso" and other counterinsurgency infantry units were dissolved and some of their members discharged, although the majority of the Ramón Belloso battalion were transferred to other military garrisons. On September 2, the FMLN demobilized the second 20% of its military forces and important steps were taken toward registering the FMLN as a political party with the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.
The greatest obstacle to demobilization is found in the programs for reinserting the contingents of demobilized soldiers into civilian life. The government seems to have training programs for its own troops and plans to grant them small parcels of agricultural land.
Though the FMLN has begun the emergency programs for inserting its combatants into civilian life, the transfer of lands as agreed to in the accords is still stalemated. The government argues that it lacks sufficient funds to buy the lands in what were FMLN-controlled areas, yet it continues to subsidize the country's coffee growers. It also claims that it is impossible to carry an agrarian reform forward, though that, too, is implicitly contemplated in the accords.
The transfer of lands presupposes a major transformation in agriculture and the government will have to resolve this point since the FMLN will condition demobilizing the remaining 60% of its combatants on solving their land problem. To date, none of the 40% of the FMLN's forces already demobilized have received land. Although the possibility of army and FMLN fighters rearming to demand compliance with the government's commitments to help them reenter civilian life is still a long way off, the government should obviously do everything possible to give them no cause to do so.
While the level of demilitarization and the advances in the cessation of armed confrontation are palpable, the contradictions in this arena will have to erupt in two respects.
First, from the government side, everyone is waiting for concrete results from the Ad Hoc Commission's evaluation of the military officer corps. The commission turned its report in to the UN on September 21, with a copy to President Cristiani, who is supposed to act on the report's recommendations within 60 days. The commission's work has perhaps not been the most effective.
The commission could only seriously investigate 10% of the close to 2,000 commissioned officers and field non-coms. It recommended that some 100 of those be removed, several high-ranking officers among them. It now falls to Cristiani to order their discharge or transfer to other posts, expressing the military's subordination to civilian authority. The findings of the Truth Commission will be added to this in early 1983.
That commission is currently investigating the most significant violations of human rights during the war (massacres and individual assassinations).
Second, as far as the FMLN goes, October 31 is the date established to conclude the period formally known as the "cessation of armed confrontation," By that time all guerrilla forces should be demobilized and reincorporated into civilian life. It seems improbable that the 60% of these forces that have yet to demobilize—some 4,000 combatants—will be able to do so in the month that remains, considering the serious difficulties that have emerged in implementing the re-incorporation programs and transferring lands as spelled out in the accords.
The FMLN faced credibility problems regarding its disarmament and demobilization following the discovery of a clandestine arms cache on the outskirts of San Salvador. The government saw this as confirmation of its suspicions respecting the arms inventory that the FMLN had presented to ONUSAL. After some vacillation and denials, the FMLN accepted responsibility for these arms, although it claimed that they were included in its inventory.
The UN has confirmed October 31 as the final deadline for a definitive cease-fire, as a way to exercise pressure on both sides. It still insists on the "irreversible, quick, dynamic and enduring" character of the process. Cristiani and his government welcomed this announcement, since their key goal is to destroy the FMLN's military structure and that is how they interpret this first phase.
The spirit of the accords, however, goes far beyond this. An end to the armed confrontation is certainly a substantial part of the accords, but is only a part of the whole. The fundamental goal of the process kicked off on February 1 is to "terminate the armed conflict through political means in the shortest time possible, promote the country's democratization, guarantee unrestricted respect for human rights and reunite Salvadoran society."
Advances have unquestionably been made in creating a new police force, demobilizing the elite battalions, shaping a new Electoral Tribunal and Human Rights Solicitor's Office and in some other aspects. Nonetheless, the implementation of all these accords has been delayed to such an extent that it is still too early to speak of the existence of secure foundations that will make democratization and a serious demilitarization possible.
The worst case scenario would be if the Cristiani government got the FMLN to fully demobilize, while conceding virtually nothing in return.
The economyDuring this whole process, compliance with the accords referring to economic and social issues seems to be following a dynamic that favors the Cristiani government and its economic model.
The implementation of the neoliberal model has substantially affected people's economic life. While it is becoming ever harder for the majority of the population to meet its basic needs, the most economically powerful sectors are benefiting from the new policies.
The implementation of the value-added tax (IVA) on September 1 resulted in disproportionate price hikes, while revealing the disorder of the market. Some businesses maintained the prices they had charged prior to the IVA and others (the few large businesses) lowered theirs, but the majority raised their prices well above the 10% represented by the new tax.
Most serious is that the application of the IVA translated into a price hike for basic goods, supposedly exempt from this tax. Moreover, urban transport fares and water and electricity rates were increased.
The slow but progressive advance of the neoliberal model is coming into sharp confrontation with grassroots resistance, and is forcing the government to institute compensatory measures.
The first 15 days of September saw a continual increase in popular protests, including road takeovers and culminating in a march on September 15, which pitched demonstrators against National Police riot squads. Several days later, Cristiani announced price reductions and controls on gasoline, public transportation and basic goods.
In the wake of this new dynamic—two steps forward and one step back—in the government's implementation of its economic plan, Cristiani was accused of being "populist" by defenders of a pure neoliberal model because he caved in to grassroots protest by imposing controls on the market.
The fundamental error is that there is no public debate about what economic model should be implemented, which is the government's number one priority.
ARENA's tax policyThe ARENA government defended the new value-added tax by arguing that it needs increased revenues, and claimed that the IVA is a modern tax with the capacity to meet this objective. But the contradictions of the fiscal policy reveal the reality that government rhetoric hides.
The government is admittedly running on deficit spending and needs to increase revenue collection. But what did it do? In December 1989, it approved a tax reform reducing direct taxes on the rich—capital gains, property and the like. In addition, it exempted coffee, shrimp and nontraditional exports from taxes. At the same time the IVA took effect, compensation for the coffee growers was approved to the tune of US $45 million and the tobacco and beer industries were absolved from taxes. It is ironic that, in the case of tobacco and beer, those industries most known for generating high taxes have been freed from taxes.
Thus, a government running on a deficit is attempting to resolve its problems by means of the IVA, an indirect and regressive tax that hits rich and poor equally. The majority of the country’s population—that is, the poorest of the poor—is thus forced to subsidize the sectors where capital is concentrated.
Two additional facts are relevant here. First, the IVA law was approved and took effect before the Consumer Defense Law, included as part of the peace accords. Only when the former was already in effect could the Legislative Assembly reach agreement on the latter.
Second, only after the IVA was approved did the private business association ANEP finally announce its incorporation into the Economic Concertación Forum. ANEP argued that social destabilization due to land takeovers and disrespect for the rule of law was the key obstacles to its incorporation as an association into the forum. But it would not be surprising to learn that ANEP conditioned its participation on the implementation of the IVA—a substantial advance for the adjustment plan. With it already in place, the important themes that could have been discussed within the forum have been reduced to nearly zero.
The political-military aspect of the accords has had two opposing poles, each with significant weight: the ARENA government and the FMLN, with a serious absence of the popular organizations. But in the socioeconomic arena, the government has virtually had a blank check to act as it sees fit, meeting only minimal opposition in the Legislative Assembly. Although there has been strong opposition from the popular organizations, the FMLN has not entered the fray with a real alternative.
A recent public opinion survey by the Central American University reflected how average people see the country's problems. Its results indicate that the key national problem is not compliance with the accords, but the economic crisis resulting from the implementation of the government's measures.
Government and FMLN strategyAs already mentioned, the government's key objective is to end the armed conflict—in other words, demobilize and disarm the FMLN. Doing so is crucial to its economic strategy.
The government conceives of the rest of the accords—dealing with legal, political and economic matters—as the possible costs of achieving this objective. Insofar as possible, Cristiani will try to carry out his economic liberalization plans while complying as little as possible with the peace accords.
The dynamic of governmental compliance with the accords has shown that Cristiani is not seriously interested in complying with them. His government only makes any real advances when a lot of pressure is exerted. In this context, the work of ONUSAL and friendly countries, as well as ongoing pressure from the FMLN, have all functioned effectively to force the government forward.
If Cristiani's own main goal is to win the 1994 elections with an absolute majority and thus control the state, a key part of his strategy is to use all possible mechanisms to politically erode the FMLN and its potential allies. The FMLN knows perfectly well that the peace accords are in no way the fundamental instrument of social change and that, in socioeconomic terms, they leave much to be desired. Nonetheless, it also knows that, by faithfully complying with the accords, a thoroughgoing political revolution will take place along with important advances in demilitarization and democratization, all key foundations for deeper social changes—to which the 1994 elections could be critical.
The FMLN has thus concentrated on fulfillment of the accords, sometimes tending to renegotiate them at the leadership level only, leaving aside the tremendous socioeconomic problems affecting the vast majority. The dynamic of the accords has so thoroughly absorbed the FMLN that the economic dimension of the national process has been relegated.
Meanwhile, the popular organizations, accustomed to fighting in times of war, have not yet found the right tools with which to fight for their socioeconomic interests during peacetime. To a certain degree, they have dispersed their energies.
This relative division of the popular struggle—with the FMLN concentrating on the political-military arena and the popular organizations on socioeconomic issues—could lead to a certain erosion of the FMLN's social base, but could also strengthen the autonomy of the popular organizations.
The problem endangering the process in the long term exists at two levels:
1) ARENA will continue to carry its economic plans forward. All political sectors seem to agree that certain economic reforms are indispensable for economic recovery. The problem arises when the measures seriously and directly affect the poor majority, with no accompanying compensatory measures, and, above all, when a model is perpetuated that in no way favors the interests of the poor.
2) In this situation, the poor tend to concentrate on solving their immediate needs, which runs the risk of de-politicizing the masses. The accords and their implementation could be very strategic for the transformation of society, but the poor majorities are not motivated by the problems involved in this process because they do not see the accords as directly related to their own immediate needs. ARENA is capitalizing on this to push forward its economic project, distracting the attention of the poor majorities away from political changes, thus limiting their participation in and defense of the peace accords.