The FMLN Offensive—Search for a Negotiated Solution
Is an offensive of the caliber of the one begun on November 11 by the FMLN, El Salvador's guerrilla movement, merely an expression of militarism or an essential part of its negotiating strategy? How does the FMLN evaluate the first phase of its spectacular but still unfinished offensive? Since when, and about what, does the FMLN want to negotiate? What is its view of the recent Central American accords signed in San Isidro?
Comandante Jesús Rojas, member of the FMLN's Political-Diplomatic Commission, answers these and other questions in an interview with envío in late December. Comandante Rojas, who joined the struggle in the early 1970s, began doing political work among the peasants and organizing popular militias in 1974. More recently, he commanded a guerrilla front in Chalatenango for several years.
Who are the real militarists?envío: The FMLN insists that the purpose of the November military offensive was to force the ARENA government to the negotiating table, but some see it simply as a product of the movement's militarist tendency. Others, on the contrary, think that the emphasis on negotiations is an expression of its military weakness. When did the FMLN conclude that negotiations were the only way to end the war?
Rojas: The FMLN never wanted El Salvador's poor majorities to pay the high social, human, material and political costs of a civil war to achieve justice. For us, the optimal solution was always to achieve a real social transformation through less painful means. Throughout the 1970s, our priorities were popular organizing, pushing for immediate demands through street demonstrations and the like. But in El Salvador the mass organizations and political opposition parties have always been persecuted, By repressing these reasonable and civilized activities they forced us to take up arms and create a guerrilla army as our only means of defense. No one any longer doubts that, were it not for the FMLN, democracy, social justice and peace in El Salvador would be hopeless aspirations.
The FMLN's strategy is political-military, never merely militarist. A negotiated solution has been a strategic proposal almost since the unification of the five political-military organizations that make up the FMLN. No, we're not militarists; we're not in a war because we like it. And this is as true for our own personal lives as individuals as it is for our people.
envío: Why could nothing be negotiated during the Duarte period?
Rojas: Because, while our strategy includes negotiations, theirs has room for nothing but war. They are the militarists. The negotiations begun in 1984 were frustrated mainly by the decision of the army chiefs of staff and by pressures from the right-wing sectors of the oligarchy and ARENA. Ever since then, they've systematically opposed any political solution.
Throughout these ten years of war, on the other hand, our proposals have become more realistic and flexible, considering not only people's aspirations for democracy, peace and justice, but also the possibilities of a truly pluralistic model in El Salvador, with an economy that takes into account structural transformations to overcome the causes that originated the war. We believe this can be achieved politically and don't see it as a tactical detour from our overall strategic path.
Negotiations, however, have never had room to grow. We've had to win this space in the streets and battlefields. We launched our first dialogue proposal to the government and army in 1981, but the Reagan Administration insisted that the FMLN could be militarily eliminated from the Salvadoran political scene. The whole US counterinsurgency strategy was built around that idea.
They even thought they could do it quickly. In 1981, they said we would be defeated by the end of the year. Then they said three years, then six or seven. Now they're convinced it'll take many years, and growing numbers, both within the Salvadoran government and military and in the United States, think it's impossible. These same sectors, however, also think the FMLN is weak and can be so debilitated that it would finally accept a negotiation that's nothing more than surrender, followed by incorporation into the democratic process supposedly underway in our country.
If all they offer us is war, we're prepared for victory; we're fighting for victory. But for us this consists of creating the conditions for developing a new society, not annihilating the other army. We've always known that negotiations will be necessary, no matter what. That's why they're a strategic element in our proposals.
envío: It's also said that the FMLN is willing to negotiate because perestroika has given such high priority to negotiations to solve regional conflicts...
Rojas: Perestroika is more recent and occurred outside our region and our context. We think this phenomenon is playing an important role in the whole world, including in our reality, but that our reality and this new one are mutually influential. We've never felt that perestroika referred to us because we've never been tied to any scheme, including the experiences of other peoples.
Dialogue without negotiationsenvío: How did ARENA's coming to power after the March elections influence the possibilities of a real negotiation?
Rojas: It represents an intent to develop and consolidate a government scheme with fascist characteristics, although this isn't absolute. A fascist scheme like ARENA's clearly contradicts the US project, which since 1982 has tried to carry out the counterinsurgency war with a moderate-appearing government. To resolve this, the US has tried to make Cristiani appear as a representative of this centrism within ARENA, and thus as a successor to Duarte and the space that Christian Democracy filled.
This implied that Cristiani would have to accept the dialogue initiated with Duarte, which is now framed in the regional peace process. But his party has always attacked that process. It was a dilemma: either ARENA would maintain its opposition to any form of dialogue or it would have to readjust. It opted for change, but only of appearance. As the new President, Cristiani called on us to dialogue, but we rejected these maneuvers at first since we were clear that there was no real desire to negotiate. There came a moment, however, in which we appeared to be the ones undermining the dialogue, so we decided to show the difference between image and reality. We sought both to unmask the true intentions of the fascists and to empower the social sectors interested not just in dialogue to prolong the war but in negotiation to end it. If Cristiani was among the latter it would show in practice.
Thus, before the first dialogue with the new government in Mexico in September, we designed conditions to favor a serious and profound effort. Before going, we made a series of unilateral gestures: a 10-day truce and the suspension of sabotage, transport strikes and the use of mines, all to create these favorable conditions. The government's response was to turn all our gestures to their own military and political advantage. They unleashed offensives in our control zones and used the suspension of economic sabotage to free up their forces for use in these offensives. We sent our highest-level commission to the meeting itself, with compañeros from the General Command, and took a substantive proposal. For its part, the government's delegation had no weight or representativity, and presented a superficial proposal for a dialogue every two months. It was clear that they wanted a long period of vacuous talks that would give them the cover to consolidate the power of their fascist government.
In summary, they interpreted our flexibility as weakness and hardened their positions. They increased their intimidation of the popular movement and political opposition, accusing them of being an "FMLN facade." They even threatened the Christian Democrats, the Catholic Church and other churches, and the Jesuit priests of the Central American University.
This was the atmosphere in which the second meeting took place in San Jose, Costa Rica, in October. Taking the essence of our January 1989 proposal, we elaborated the Mexico proposal in as much detail as we could. We wanted to offer our thought-out formulas for a solution not only to the government delegation but also to the rest of the social and political forces in our country and the international community, putting all our cards on the table. We also fought to have delegates of the United Nations and Organization of American States as witnesses and the Catholic Church as moderator. We thus showed that we were serious about a political solution and had nothing to hide.
The government opposed all of this; it wanted a closed meeting where everybody said whatever they felt like. We could have spent the meeting playing cards, and no one would know the difference. Or we could have spent the time in interminable mutual accusations that would get us nowhere. This was why we saw the witnesses and mediators as indispensable.
Nothing came out of the Costa Rica meeting. The government delegation repeatedly refused to discuss our proposal or even to comment on it. In public declarations a few days after the meeting, President Cristiani and the army high command rejected it as "absurd." Why not tell us that during the meeting? We would've saved time and many difficult moments during the meeting. The army and Cristiani himself annulled even the minimum accord we signed in Costa Rica. We know that the government delegation was reprimanded for having signed this document and that nothing that occurred in the San Jose meeting was reported on in El Salvador.
Meanwhile government repression made qualitative leaps, starting with dynamite attempts against the homes of Aronette Díaz of the UDN and Rubén Zamora of the MPSC. The final straw was the bombing of the FENASTRAS building. None of these attempts are separate from the government's position in Costa Rica. The document they took defined as "hostilities" any kind of activity against the "state of law"—that is, them. They demanded that the FMLN and its "support groups" cease these hostilities, which included any political, economic, social, psychological or military activities. It was clearly a fascist proposal, not a negotiating position. Their goal was to end all popular movement and political opposition activities.
Particularly during the offensive, we saw that this wasn't mere theory, but practice. Anyone who criticizes them, makes claims against them, disagrees with them or struggles around any issue is seen as a group hostile to the state and society that must be eliminated. In the San Jose meeting we asked the government delegation exactly what it considered to be FMLN "support groups" so we'd be clear. They didn't give us an answer then, but when they began to place bombs all over, we sent a message through a mediator asking if we were to understand that all those being bombed were "support groups" of the guerrilla movement.
We couldn't go on lending ourselves to talks that weren't going anywhere, just so they could continue their repression, continue consolidating a government that was closing instead of opening democratic spaces. We decided to accelerate and update the offensive plans that we'd been preparing for years.
envío: So you went to talk in Mexico and Costa Rica with a strong military card up your sleeve?
Rojas: Obviously an offensive such as this wasn't prepared overnight. We've clearly stated that as long as the army was developing offensive plans and operations throughout the country, we can't sit back and believe in the good faith that has never been demonstrated by either the army or the government. Of course, we were preparing to defeat the army's military plans. But, at the same time, we went to Mexico convinced that if our proposal was accepted we would enter fully into the process. That would obviously have stopped the offensive; it would have even stopped the course of the war and opened a new era in Salvadoran society.
Evaluation of the offensiveenvío: Did you design this offensive around ARENA's coming to power?
Rojas: That had an effect, in that it sharpened many conditions that had been developing for months. Virtually since the Christian Democrats were defeated in the 1988 municipal elections, changes could be seen developing in the most densely populated urban zones. That was where Duarte and the Christian Democrats had found the most support for their centrist project, since the war was mainly in the countryside and things were seen differently there. ARENA's occupation of power in the city radicalized many sectors of the population who began to look for ways to confront the approaching danger. The offensive wouldn't have been possible had urban sectors not been joining the armed struggle for some time. ARENA's triumph didn't force us to decide on the offensive; reality did. All the conditions of greater economic impoverishment and closing of all space for demands matured with ARENA's arrival.
envío: Can you make a general evaluation of the offensive yet?
Rojas: In launching it we wanted to get the existing correlation of forces out on the table. The fascists and the military high command maintained that the FMLN was weak and had no popular roots, that we lacked military capability and were reduced to small, isolated terrorist groups in the mountains. We had to show them that this was false by calling into question the army's military strength and the government's capacity to control the country. This meant also calling into question the continuation of unconditional US economic and military support to the Salvadoran government, since this is the only thing that sustains it. And we're not the ones saying this. For some time now, sectors of both the US administration and the Salvadoran army have recognized that the current system would have succumbed if it weren't for US military and economic aid. If Salvadoran society had been left to struggle with its own strength and resources, Cristiani's government would never have existed and the military's current power—its wealth and its absolute control over our country—would never have become reality. We believe that the offensive has already achieved one important goal in demonstrating that after so much US support, the FMLN is neither defeated nor weak, that it has popular support, and that the government, so carefully maintained with dollars and images, neither controls the country nor is moderate.
The offensive has left other political and military achievements whose scope we still can't measure exactly. Overall, we've opened the space to define the conflict in terms favorable to the poor majorities. The recognition of the FMLN in the last UN General Assembly resolution is an incalculable political achievement. For the first time in 10 years, all the governments of the 159 nations in the UN approved by consensus a declaration recognizing the dual power that exists in Salvadoran society. The resolution refers to the FMLN as part of an "internal" conflict according to Protocol 2 of the Geneva Accords, which speaks of confrontations between two parties, each with equal duties and rights that should be taken into account. This wasn't a routine UN resolution because it went beyond the issue of human rights—the initial objective of the document—to take on the problem in its entirety, affirming that it's not an "international" conflict and trying to offer a solution.
Another important achievement is that the fascist character of the army and this government has been exposed in the raw to the international community and Salvadoran society itself, especially to the urban population. With respect to the military, it didn't acquire these genocidal and murderous characteristics when the ARENA government took power. No, they've been rooted there for decades. All the slaughter, all the destruction that the army caused during the offensive is not the fruit of two or three genocidal military bosses; it was born out of the very essence of that institution and was a decision of all the military leaders.
We also believe that, because of the offensive, the gravity and complexity of the Salvadoran situation have been brought to light, because it isn't just a confrontation between a guerrilla army and a newly elected government. It's the drama of a whole people who, in addition to the poverty brought about by unjust social structures, are suffering the repression of a regime that has always been genocidal and is now fascist. All of this has begun to open the doors of comprehension needed to bring about a political solution. We believe that the entire international community now understands better that it's not possible to continue seeking the military defeat of the FMLN. The search for a negotiated solution is urgent. And the fact that this is now in the hands of the UN Secretary General gives us possibilities that didn't exist before. In fact, since our offensive, El Salvador has been put on the agenda of all the international forums.
Another very important achievement is that a debate about what's happening in El Salvador has opened in the United States, not only in the highest political spheres of Congress or the administration but also in US society. The repression of North Americans working in humanitarian or religious institutions—the capture of some, the expulsion of many, the closing of their workplaces—has morally roused hundreds of thousands of US citizens. Practically all of the churches with a base in the United States and work in El Salvador have been affected by the army's repression, provoking protests and denunciations of all kinds. It has also begun to mobilize initiatives from various groups of Congresspeople who want continued aid to the Salvadoran regime to be submitted to discussion. After the congressional recess, all this will begin to be expressed in more concrete terms, which could break down the closed bipartisanship that the US has counted on for its El Salvador policy since 1984.
Other controversial issues came to light for US people during the offensive, such as the number and activities of US advisers in El Salvador. It wasn't the 55 they've always claimed but many more; and they're armed. They live in the hotels, have all kinds of firearms there, go into conflict zones, travel in helicopters. It also became clear that US citizens hostile to a government the US supports are treated the same way as the rest of our people: they're captured, beaten and tortured. In the United States, many didn't believe that these things happened; and, since often a compatriot has to suffer in order for people to understand, a lot have come to understand in recent days.
envío: These are all political and diplomatic results; what about the military outcome?
Rojas: Militarily we've gained a great deal of experience. We've incorporated several hundred new combatants who amply compensate for our casualties. And the tie between our military units and the people is much stronger. Our strength is no longer just based in rural zones, in our traditional control zones, but also now in the vital center and southern zones of the country, where we've been growing but always clandestinely and conspiratorially.
Why the city?envío: You've made what you call the strategic siege of the city a central element of the offensive. Why the city?
Rojas: The transfer of the battlefront from the country to the cities is a strategic step, though it doesn't mean abandoning the previous fronts; the war continues there. What we've done is expand the people's struggle. But we didn't make this move just because we wanted to; it's the result of the very development of the struggle in the most densely populated urban areas. Four or five years ago this offensive would have been virtually impossible because we didn't really have such solid ties or so much support in the city. But we also have to say that at this time the offensive couldn't have taken place anywhere but in the cities. It's precisely in the cities where the greater contradictions have been accumulating and generating a greater explosive potential.
Going to the city also shows our willingness to end this war. If we were looking to prolong the conflict indefinitely, we could have stayed in the traditional rural zones fighting a war of military attrition and indefinite sabotage. But we believe we have a responsibility to our people to find the shortest path to a definition of the situation once and for all. The cities and the principal industrial and agroexport zones are where the conditions exist for intensifying the struggle. We hope to define the war in the cities.
envío: How do you evaluate the costs of the offensive in human lives? Haven't they been very high?
Rojas: The high human costs of this offensive were fundamentally due to the military's use of heavy artillery and indiscriminate saturation bombing against the civilian population in urban barrios and working class neighborhoods. This genocide is nothing new; they've been doing it for years in rural areas, since the war began to develop more openly. The scorched-earth policy and the massacres in campesino territory depopulated thousands of miles of our land and forced hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans to head for refugee camps in Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and elsewhere. It provoked hundreds of thousands more to concentrate in the city, forming new shanty towns and intensifying the explosive crisis that now exists in the cities. With the slaughters of the 1980s, the government was able in some degree to disarticulate the popular movement in urban zones and could display San Salvador as a showcase of peace to prove that the country wasn't at war and that they had everything under control. This all began to change when two things happened: one was that the objective conditions moved the epicenter of the struggle from the country to the city, and the other was our decision to declare our presence in the cities to lead that struggle.
In 1984 we made a strategic readjustment. We decided to spread out our large military units and convert them into political-military work teams that would throw themselves into political as well as military work. These five years of work and accumulation of forces, of increased experience and organization made the November 11 offensive possible. By September 1988, we'd begun to carry out maneuvers in urban zones as well as in the principal highways and production zones, always increasing the presence of out units. We found fertile ground. If the FMLN had decided to continue pursuing the war in the rural areas, it would have isolated itself from the precise location of our people's principal social conflict.
There have been human and social costs with our offensive, but we wouldn't have avoided them without it because we're confronted with a fascist regime and a criminal army. The only way to avoid these costs would be for our people to decide to bow their heads, drop to their knees and live the rest of their lives subject to the arbitrariness and abuses of the oligarchs. This has never happened. Our people aren't willing to bow their heads, which is why our political-military organizations have grown so much, winning the support and love of the people. That decision has given the FMLN its strength, because it has led the people in their willingness to lift their heads and fight for justice and democracy.
envío: How many military casualties were there in the offensive?
Rojas: Between dead and wounded, five of their combatants fell for every one of ours. Civilian casualties are almost two to one in relation to army casualties. The bombing and the use of heavy artillery greatly increased the number of civilian casualties. We have to consider this in readjusting our tactics for new stages of the offensive. Really, we never believed that the army was going to use the air force the way it did in the cities. We thought they'd use artillery helicopters, which are less destructive. We didn't think the soldiers' genocidal thinking would reach those extremes.
envío: Is there an evaluation of the economic costs?
Rojas: Overall, this still hasn't been sufficiently evaluated. Some statistics indicate losses to private enterprise, but we're no longer gambling mainly on economic attrition. If we were willing to prolong the war, that attrition would be a fundamental element, but what we want with the offensive is to stop the war. An interesting fact is that the contradictions between private enterprise and the military are growing, because the military say they have the situation under control and, in fact, it's proven that they don't. There are growing numbers in private enterprise who, although they think the FMLN can't win, know that it can interfere with the normal development of the economy. We aren't talking about the fascist oligarchs, ideologues with their own death squads, but younger businesspeople who are neither progressive nor revolutionary. They want a definite project in which they can play an important role; they believe that if the war continues or if the military wins, they'll have no role to play, because the traditional right-wing oligarchy will prevail. This more modem sector of the bourgeoisie, which is strong, could be drawn in to reinforce the consensus for a political solution.
Missiles and summit meetingsenvío: If the air force played such a determining role, the use or non-use of surface-to-air missiles, which you already have, becomes a determining factor. What is the FMLN thinking on this?
Rojas: With the accidental crash of a small plane that was transporting surface-to-air missiles, among other arms, the Salvadoran government tried to create a smokescreen for the international community to hide what was happening in the country. And what was happening was that the indiscriminate bombings, the use of heavy artillery and a witch hunt of grassroots leaders and the opposition, with murders like those of the Jesuit priests, were provoking world-wide indignation, pressure and condemnations from all over. The government tried to distract attention by claiming that the offensive was the result of aggression by a neighboring government, that of Nicaragua. But they failed. They tried to take this complaint to the UN and the OAS who paid no attention. We, on the other hand, won our and our people's legitimate right to use all means necessary to defend ourselves. At this time, more than ever, the air force's criminal role in the war has become clear. It is, therefore, absolutely just that we use these missiles to stop them. We've also hit the nail on the head in making everyone aware that it's the United States itself that filled the region with these kinds of arms, putting them in the hands of the mercenary and irresponsible contra forces since 1985. And they didn't give them just these missiles but thousands of tons of all kinds of arms. It has created a black market in the region, whose principal sales agents are corrupt elements of the Salvadoran army and the contras. Now, we're going to take advantage of these resources. And we'll do it when we consider it convenient and when the conditions are right to use them effectively.
envío: Many people were surprised at Nicaragua's position in the Central American summit meeting in San Isidro, Costa Rica. Does it mean a weakening of solidarity between the FSLN and the FMLN?
Rojas: We're clear that four other Presidents besides Nicaragua's participate in these summits and that what one President says isn't what is later signed. We also know that pressures must be taken into account at the time of signing. The FMLN rejects the content of those accords because we don't believe they contribute to strengthening the negotiation process, which is still not open. The document doesn't help open the space necessary to comply with it, because part of the agreement legitimates and consolidates the fascist Salvadoran regime's most hard-line positions.
The FMLN has said with respect to all of these summits that we are not subordinate to any of the governments that sign and are precisely at war with the government we do deal with directly—the Salvadoran government. We therefore do not see ourselves legally bound to comply with these accords; we neither formulated them nor were consulted in their formulation. We also believe that as an interested party, we have the right to express our opinions, as other forces do after each summit, saying what they like and do not like about the text.
One part of the document is political rhetoric that's not positive for our people, but nothing concrete is defined in it. The rhetoric, the phrases and expressions favorable to the government, have no endorsement in the international community. The UN resolution signed after the summit meeting clearly demonstrated this; it refers to the Costa Rica accords, but only notes that the Presidents met and nothing more.
There are elements of the text we support. We don't see anything negative in the concrete, substantive and fundamental aspect, which refers to a negotiated solution and the naming of the UN Secretary General as mediator in that process. We think that in this summit the need for negotiation, which the army and Cristiani's party has always opposed, came out more clearly defined. Now they're obliged to sit at the table with the mediator. We think that the delegation presided over by Daniel Ortega had this very much in mind when he signed the accords, in which the interests of the Nicaraguan people—those he is fundamentally obliged to defend—were also at play.
Any offensive could be finalenvío: After initiating the offensive and sustaining it for a month, there was a retreat and a certain calm. Is the offensive over or is there another wave? What is the overall strategy now, and what is foreseeable after November 11?
Rojas: The offensive arose out of our decision to carry out a strategic effort in the principal cities. This meant two things: attack the military in its principal quarters, creating conditions in which to significantly wear them down, and at the same time, promote the maximum incorporation of the people into the offensive. All of this obliged us to make a series of adjustments in what had been our military tactics, because the principal army headquarters are in densely populated zones, and most are near popular barrios. The air force headquarters are in the center of a sea of working class neighborhoods in the industrial zone, the same with the Treasury Police and the National Guard, which are surrounded by working class neighborhoods. The First Brigade and the National Police are also almost in the center of the city. On the other hand, the quarters of the military Chiefs of Staff are in a residential zone of oligarchs, which is also where the Military Academy, the military and government Intelligence Center and the Zacamil Battalion are located. Any operational plan included our presence in all these zones. It's impossible to attack the command centers without going into populated zones.
Since this was a strategic endeavor, we had to fashion immediate rearguard and combat zones. In the course of this war we've learned that it's not the same to attack an enemy in the open field as one in a trench. For this reason, we had to combine a series of tactical patterns in the offensive. One of them was to create lines of fire in urban zones so we could entrench ourselves there. We virtually hadn’t experimented with this method since 1981. If we'd been able to consolidate and sustain these lines, we have no doubt that it would have provoked the massive uprising of the people. But the military's genocidal decision to use its heavy resources in order to flatten all the city's popular barrios if necessary—as they've done in the small towns in the control zones—meant we couldn't hold to our initial tactic. Every unarmed person in these zones had only two choices: die, buried by the bombs, or find a way out of the area. Our forces were finally faced with the dilemma of either going on the move or confronting the destructive power of a military resolved to wipe out San Salvador and other cities. We opted for varying our tactic and started to move, implementing guerrilla tactics in the city. In this way, the offensive combined guerrilla and insurrection-type tactics.
It was the first time we made a strategic, thorough effort in the city, and we couldn't hope to obtain all the results we wanted on the first try, though we did believe we had some possibility of doing so. In this offensive and others, we've been experimenting, trying to push our forces to the limit. This was our greatest test, but at no time did we think it was the last, the final offensive. Our strategic plan is to keep making more efforts. We didn't expend all our resources in this first one, so we don't have any problems right now with continuing the offensive.
We consider the experience of fixing positions from which to fight the army as one of the most important lessons of this offensive. It's not easy for troops accustomed to fighting in the mountains to assimilate urban combat in a short time; or for the urban combatants, accustomed only to small actions, to convert the city into a permanent battlefield. So the offensive showed us the enormous adaptive capacity and heroism of our forces. We've developed hundreds of new leaders in this offensive. Urban combat demands a lot of creativity, and since many units must be sent—a different one for each block—a large number of leaders are required to carry out all the necessary maneuvers and movements. Many of our combatants who didn't previously have this capacity now do. We've been able to measure how far we can go and how much we can do with this kind of combat, which before now had only been a matter of speculation, estimate and even doubt. What we had in mind for urban combat came from other revolutionary experiences.
In El Salvador, the longest we'd been able to stay in a city, including towns in the countryside, was about 24 hours. This time we were able to stay in the barrios for almost a week; and for nearly a month in the urban area. Today we know what we can do and will consider that in continuing this offensive. In fact, the army didn't dislodge us from a single position in immediate combat. The first four days they launched assault after assault trying to pry us loose from Zacamil, Ciudad Delgado, Mejicanos, Soyapango, all those barrios, and we defeated their attacks one after another with heavy army casualties. It was the indiscriminate use of the air force, putting civilians in danger, that led us to make readjustments in the field. A vital point for the next wave of the offensive is to develop our ability to neutralize the effects of the air force. If we can do that, the army will be left without its strategic weapon to stop the revolutionary thrust.
envíoAre we facing, then, a kind of final offensive in waves until the war is defined?
Rojas: Since last year we've been making what we call a strategic counter-offensive, which we define as the endeavor of a whole period. The word "final" can only be used after it happens, not before. We're convinced that several efforts will be needed, any one of which could become the final one. But, at the same time, each of those waves can't be suicidal in the sense that we launch it saying: I win this one or it's all over. We learned from the war to discard that way of thinking many years ago. We have to keep making efforts while at the same time guaranteeing their continuity. Yes, we say that we're in a period of defining the war because we want to emphasize that our endeavor is not only military. If we were to talk of the "final offensive" we'd be turning attention away from our overall work, which is political and military. And this is important not only when we are opposite our interlocutors, allies or enemies, but also for our own combatants, who, above all, must be clear that what they're doing is part of an overall and greater endeavor, both political and military, in which military offensives and political decisions are intertwined.
What's to negotiate?envío: What has been the essence of your negotiating proposals?
Rojas: In 1987, to speak of a more recent one, we offered a six-point proposal for the installation of a provisional broad-based government that would make fundamental transformations then call for general elections. We also demanded the restructuring of the army and the creation of a new one made up of the restructured one and ours. We also proposed basic social and economic reforms as well as constitutional reforms.
After that, we drew up an 18-point framework of conditions for negotiations. The 18 points were commitments for both the FMLN and the armed forces, all along the lines of humanizing the war. The Catholic Church has played an important role in this terrain. We agreed to suspend our economic sabotage, transport stoppages and use of mines and minefields, to respect the functioning of local government and to not carry out executions, even though the only cases in which we apply the death penalty are people caught in espionage activities that facilitate aerial attacks or military operations. In exchange for all this we demanded that the army stop using its air force or heavy artillery in combat, since these mainly harm the civilian population, and that it stop detaining or kidnapping members of the popular movement. We know that these points were widely studied and debated within the army, and that some considered them worthy of negotiation. But again the most right-wing thinking prevailed and nothing was negotiated. All these are important milestones. We guerrillas are the ones who have been providing the guidelines, the will and the formulation for a viable negotiated solution.
Obviously, all these proposals are to be negotiated; they don't represent a closed or inflexible position. But we've always felt that in them we have the right and the duty to formulate our thinking in a complete way.
envío: Which initiative do you consider most important?
Rojas: Perhaps the most strategic, for its feasibility, was our January 23, 1989 proposal that elections be the door to peace. We proposed postponing the elections a few months to create conditions that would permit the FMLN's full participation. This meant fundamental changes from our previous proposals. For the first time we modified our demand that a provisional broad-based government first create the conditions for our incorporation into an already-reformed society. We naturally demanded minimal security conditions not only for us but for all the opposition political forces so as to guarantee a just and honest electoral campaign. We asked for international supervision and agreed to accept the electoral results even if the FMLN or the coalition we supported didn't win, and to establish negotiations with this government for our re-incorporation into civil society. For the first time we also accepted the Salvadoran army as an institution, as long as it made the changes necessary to guarantee its respect for democracy and for the process of change that would open up. We thus modified our proposal for the integration of the two armies.
President Duarte and the Christian Democrats briefly saw the possibility of agreeing to a slightly modified version of our offer. But the Salvadoran right and the United States forced Duarte to hold the elections with no modification whatsoever. So, instead of opening up a peace process, the elections were imposed to continue the war. ARENA's coming to power even intensified it. We predicted that before it happened, and reality proved us right.
Our latest proposals, those presented to the ARENA government in September and October 1989 [see January 1990 envío for extracts of the texts] were even more flexible, smoothing all the rough edges that prior experience has shown could give them the excuse to say no.
A demilitarization of societyenvío: The army always appears as the central issue of any proposal. Why is that?
Rojas: The problem of the army is complex and very difficult. Until we sit down and seriously deal with it, it's difficult to predict a solution. In the final analysis, the correlation of forces at negotiating time will define what comes out of the process. I'm not only talking about how many fighters and weapons each side has, but also about the political space that will have opened up by that time.
We'll never accept a genocidal army commanded by killers. When we speak of accepting the armed institution and not aspiring to control it, we're making a fundamental change; but we demand that it stop playing the controlling and repressive role it's played for decades. When we speak of "purifying" the army, we're not talking only about changing a few individuals but also about changing the structure of this organization. In the Costa Rica meeting, we constructively laid out what we consider revolutionary thinking about how to design the demilitarization of our country. Our proposal has three fundamental steps: guarantee the absolute subordination of the military institution to civilian power, purify the army and professionalize it. If we achieve this, there will be a true revolution in the model that has governed Salvadoran society for the last 60 years.
El Salvador is a militarized society; in our country the armed forces are the real power, the one that decides. For almost 50 years it controlled the whole state apparatus; it chose the executive, decided who the ministers would be, and played a direct role in the whole state structure. For the past 10 years, the United States has been making cosmetic modifications. Under a supposed professionalization of the army, it was separated from those previous functions. But, and this is precisely the point, the army was given constitutional powers that it didn't have before. These are the central aspects we believe must be reformed in the current Constitution.
An example: our old Constitution guaranteed the Salvadoran people the right to rebel if the government departed from constitutional objectives. Now that right appears in the chapter on the armed forces, delegating to them what had been a right of the people—the maximum authority in any democracy. In practice, the armed institution always exercised the right to rebel, and the succession of coups in El Salvador always alluded to this article of the Constitution. But now they not only do it in fact, they do it by constitutionally approved law. In the current Constitution, approved in 1983 by an ARENA-controlled Legislative Assembly in the middle of a civil war, the army appears as the guarantor of constitutional compliance. Thus, in the new model of "democracy" imposed by the United States, the army continues to have all the power.
Another example: the President of the Republic currently needs the signature of the minister of the corresponding ministry on any law, decree or measure that goes through the executive. This doesn't present any great problem in health, education, the economy, etc., because the President names these ministers, and he can ask for the resignation of any not considered apt. In the case of the minister of defense, it's a different story, because although the President theoretically names him, everyone knows that this appointment is the result of a negotiation, first within the ranks of the army and then between the army and the US government. Everyone also knows that changing the defense minister is no easy thing. Neither Duarte nor Cristiani could dictate a law without the signature of the minister of defense in a country at war, in which practically all government decisions include the problem of the war. This means that the army has veto power, backed by the Constitution. To have veto power is to have absolute power. These are little-known legal aspects that are demonstrated in daily practice. So Duarte, with his trajectory and the possibility of playing a more positive role, had his hands completely tied. He was little more than a facade for the military dictatorship supported and promoted by the United States.
It has to be understood that in El Salvador we're talking about a military dictatorship disguised as democracy, in which the army no longer needs electoral frauds. It can afford to allow quite free elections. As long as it controls all the power, any presidential candidate, including a very democratic, even left- wing one can be elected, because he'll wear a straightjacket to his inauguration, and will have to try to develop democracy with his hands tied behind his back. Real democracy in El Salvador can only come through a change in the power that the Constitution assigns to the armed forces. And, although the change has to be expressed constitutionally, that's secondary. More important is a prior negotiation that expresses the real correlation of forces in the country, thus changing a situation in which a minority has trampled the majority under foot.
envío: If after so many years the armed forces haven't wanted to negotiate anything, is a proposal to negotiate such fundamental aspects viable? What would make them want to negotiate?
Rojas: If negotiations depend on the military leadership that has gotten so much power and economic gain from the war, our proposal isn't very viable. We believe that negotiations can't be only between the FMLN and the army high command or fascist sectors, but must result from a consensus of all the forces of the nation. As long as the former continue believing only in a military solution, the war will continue to worsen. We can't lay down our arms and hope to gain a democratic model afterwards. In El Salvador that model is only possible when guaranteed by an armed people. That's the reality, and as long as it doesn't change there will continue to be reasons for armed struggle.
The centerpiece of any negotiation is to transform this army. If we're going to renounce arms, the least we can ask is that the high command—in this case the whole "Tandona"—which has been designing the genocidal policy, leave their posts and allow a restructuring and cleansing of the army. They have no place in a new model of society. But getting rid of them is only a first step to be able to really reform the army. In that process the elimination of the security forces is essential. They should be converted into a new single body that answers to civilian power rather than the armed institution.
envío: Do you think that once the "Tandona" is gone, there are some in the army that can negotiate such a process? Isn't the whole officer corps contaminated?
Rojas: The officer corps is enormous and has grown even more in these 10 years of war. While we think there are some who are still clean, it's true that negotiating with this army is a minefield. Conditions and guarantees will be needed to reduce to a minimum the dangers that the continuation of this institution represents, with its history and repressive habits. Not only guarantees of international verification, but also guarantees for the nation's internal forces. In the worst case, if, after all the guarantees, a real democratic process is initiated and the army begins to respond with its traditional repressive attitude, we'll take up arms with our people again and reactivate the military confrontation. To demilitarize our country is a very difficult process, but in the long term, we're looking not only for a demilitarized society, but one without an army. Our aspiration is that that happen by the year 2000.
From here, where?envío: What are the short-term perspectives following the November 11 offensive?
Rojas: Between the prolongation of the conflict and negotiation, we believe that the dynamic to open the negotiation process now has greater strength. But as long as this negotiation doesn't become a reality, the war will continue; and as long as the regime continues repressing the population and developing its military operations, the war will also intensify. For this reason, if someone claims to support peace and wants to avoid more bloodshed in El Salvador, they must support the negotiation process and the forces that are more decidedly pledged to this solution: the FMLN, the opposition political parties and the popular movement. They must withdraw support from the forces who do not want to negotiate: the military and the fascist sectors of the government and the ARENA party.
envío: What can we hope from the United States in this new historic moment?
Rojas: The United States now has a great opportunity to change its position and begin to constructively support Salvadorans in finding a solution. The FMLN maintains the principle that the solution must be found among Salvadorans. For this reason, we don't think that other governments should sit at the negotiating table. Their role should be to support and help Salvadorans resolve the situation in El Salvador. The help the United States can give is decisive, because it has a determining influence on the sectors that refuse to negotiate. It can stop aiding those sectors, and the war and our people's suffering would end.
envío: When would the war have ended without US aid?
Rojas: Maybe it would have ended in 1983. That was when, seeing the army in danger, the Reagan administration decided on an almost unlimited escalation of the war.
envío: Would it have ended with an FMLN victory?
Rojas: It would have ended with the people's victory. The FMLN believes that the only victory possible in El Salvador is one of many forces united by a broad political and social consensus. We're not seeking a victory just for the FMLN that excludes others, nor do we think that that would be the best thing for our people. For this reason, negotiation will always be needed in any kind of victory. We've never strayed from that path.