Only a year ago the Duarte government, the army and the United States refused an FMLN proposal to postpone elections for six months to create more democratic conditions. The FMLN boycotted the elections, duly held in March amidst a bloodbath that left 44 people dead, three of them journalists. Further escalation of violence during Duarte's lame-duck period foretold the brutal way the year would end.
In talks with the FMLN in September and October, the new ARENA government assumed that the FMLN was negotiating out of weakness; the talks went nowhere. The “social explosion” that the FMLN predicted if there were no serious negotiations did not happen, but a massive FMLN offensive did. In desperation, the armed forces gave free rein to their extremist elements. The resultant indiscriminate bombing of the civilian population and the assassination of six Jesuits of the Central American University (UCA) changed the course of events. The FMLN had demonstrated its strength; the government and armed forces their savagery.
Today, a long year later, Duarte is dead, the ultraright ARENA government has been in power nine months, and new negotiations between it and the FMLN seem to have opened a door, albeit by force, in early April. Whether the key players, especially the US government, define it as a door to true democratization of the country or not, El Salvador now shares the center of regional attention with Nicaragua.
Presidential elections: Ultra-Right to powerThe corrupt Duarte government had failed in all of its stated objectives, including the two most important: achieving peace and overcoming the economic crisis. The minority of the electorate that voted in March 1989 decided to change the manager of the US project in El Salvador. Alfredo Cristiani, the “moderate" ARENA candidate, won, capping an ARENA ascendancy begun in the 1988 legislative and municipal elections.
Cristiani’s victory appeared a landslide. He received 53.8% in the first round, a fraction more than Duarte's Christian Democratic Party (PDC) got in the second round in 1984. But it was deceptive; with over half the voters abstaining, fewer people voted for ARENA than voted against it in 1984. An UCA-sponsored poll had showed that 59% agreed with the FMLN proposal to postpone the elections; a conservatively estimated 54% abstained when they were not postponed.
This abstention cannot all be attributed to the FMLN's boycott call, much less to fear of its threats of election-day violence or to the transport stoppage—in such circumstances, most Salvadorans still go to work. It appears mainly to reflect the loss of credibility of elections as an effective instrument—assuming no change in the current situation—for resolving El Salvador's problems. Even the 1972 and 1977 elections, whose fraudulent results led so many Salvadorans to view armed struggle as the only solution, had over 70% participation.
Paradoxically, though, these elections may have opened the possibility for a relatively influential center apposition. The Democratic Convergence (CD), an alliance made up of Guillermo Ungo's social democratic MNR, dissident PDC leftist Rubén Zamora's PPSC and Reni Roldán's PSD, got less than 4%, in part due to its ambivalent image of sympathy for the boycotting FMLN. But should negotiations turn serious, the CD could be a bridge between the FMLN and the new Christian Democratic opposition. On the other hand, if elections really become a road to peace, it might be imprudent to discard the CD's vote-getting capacity as a leftwing alliance; its post-electoral base work—particularly that of the PPSC—has been untiring.
The Authentic Christian Movement (MAC) of Julio Rey Prendes, who broke with the PDC after losing his fight with Fidel Chávez Mena to be presidential candidate, has 18 loyal representatives in the National Assembly, even though the MAC won barely 1% of the votes. Prendes' opportunism currently has him swinging between the FMLN’s negotiating positions and ARENA’s legislative positions, but he might, in serious negotiations, lean toward forming a bloc with the CD and the PDC, which took 36.6% of the vote.
The PCN, the old ruling party during the 18 years of military domination prior to 1979, dropped from 19% in the 1982 constituent elections to 4% in 1989, which could tempt it to ally with the ARENA majority in the National Assembly. Such reduction in the gamut of parties helps increase the influence of the center opposition.
At the beginning of 1989, the FMLN made clear that it had two complementary strategies. The first was to present creative and reasonable negotiating proposals that could move Salvadoran society toward peace and demilitarization with greater social justice; the second, to carry out qualitatively stronger military actions linked to the needs of the Salvadoran majority. Throughout the year, the FMLN continually judged the shifts between negotiation and “social explosion.” The latter assumed a qualitative leap in the combativity of the masses and their ability to take the streets in urban zones, especially in the capital. Such popular mobilization would be impossible if the FMLN could not convince the masses that its military strength was potentially definitive.
To prepare the popular majorities for the “social explosion,” the FMLN encouraged sectoral alliances around the minimum consensus the popular forces voted for in the National Debate for Peace. The FMLN's military commandos in the capital gained support among the youth, but many remained skeptical, given the conflict's duration, or distrustful of the FMLN due to top-down work by intermediary cadres. Neighborhood organizing occurred more around religious associations, which thus became subject to repression.
In labor disputes, the new government evicted and laid off workers, declaring their strikes illegal. In an interesting contrast with the former Duarte government, ARENA also tried to divide the popular movement by receiving leaders of the state employees union. The Duarte government never recognized workers' demands; it simply repressed them.
The popular response, though not weak, did not come close to a "social explosion." The workers' federations of UNTS and UNOC allied in January, when the FMLN proposed postponing the elections. But they divided again over the issue of participation once the proposal was rejected. In August, they rejoined their forces to combat the emergency economic adjustment measures that the ARENA government was hurrying to initiate. Following this tendency, other union federations also formed alliances.
The ARENA victory emboldened the most violent sectors of the party, the armed forces and security. Whereas between January and March there had been a monthly average of 31 violent actions such as murders, detentions and attacks on popular forces, the number leaped to 130 in April, and again to 82 in July, 116 in September and 73 in October.
Given the frank repression in April, it is no small thing that the UNTS and its affiliates, together with other popular organizations, organized some 15,000 workers to march in the capital on May 1. Their chants were mainly directed against the repression and the continuation of the war. That same night, Colonel Vargas, who headed the war in the departments of San Miguel and Morazán, proudly told the press that military measures had successfully cut off access to peasants and cooperative members to the International Workers' Day march.
During this period, UNOC demonstrated against attempts to reverse the agrarian reform. Its tactic was centered largely on neighborhood mobilizations in urban terrain, where people had more possibilities of eluding the security forces' repressive response.
The announcement of new talks in Mexico between the FMLN and the government for September 15 provided a new occasion for popular mobilization in the capital. Defying police cordons and the coincidence of a huge military parade, nearly 30,000 people responded to the call to march by the Permanent Committee of the National Debate for Peace. Probably more than half of those participating represented religious organizations; a smaller percentage were from unions, which are even more exposed to repression.
FMLN brings the war to the capitalThe FMLN responded in kind to the increased number of victims (11 killed in 37 attempts between January and June, when ARENA was sworn into power). Former FMLN Comandante Miguel Castellanos, found working in an army think-tank, was executed in February; in March, it was Doctor Francisco Peccorini Letona (ex-Jesuit and ideologue of the Right); in April, Attorney General Roberto Alvarado; in June, Minister of the Presidency José Antonio Rodríguez Porth, although the FMLN never took responsibility for his death or that of two more. It is unlikely that the executions the FMLN did take responsibility for had been ordered by the leadership; more probably they occurred because the decision not to attack notables—already in effect during those months of the transition period—was slow to get back to the urban commandos.
At the end of June, the FMLN launched a campaign in Chalatenango against ARENA’s “anti-terrorist laws.” In the National Assembly, plans were being drawn up to reform the penal and penal process codes through this law which equated social protest with terrorism. It was against such measures as these that the FMLN’s strategy of intensifying the war in the interests of the masses was aimed. Similarly, following an August announcement of tax hikes that shot up the price of public transportation, the FMLN destroyed more than 50 buses.
Violence continued throughout the year. In October, the Federation of Mothers and Families of Prisoners, Disappeared and Assassinated of El Salvador occupied the Costa Rican Embassy to protest the increased repression. As the UCA’s magazine Proceso indicated, El Salvador was in a "state of terror” similar to the first years of the 1980s.
Testimony presented to the Mexican Human Rights Academy in August by César Vielman Joya Martínez, a deserter from Salvador’s First Infantry Brigade, had indicated that death squads executed the operations from that same brigade, among other places. The testimony validated a long-held assertion that death squads cannot be characterized as groups beyond the armed forces' control.
Who’s negotiating out of weakness? In talks in San José, Costa Rica, on October 15-17, the second in two months, the FMLN became convinced that the government delegation had no serious intention to negotiate. It depended entirely on the red or green light given to every agenda item from high-level military officers ensconced on the top floor of the convent where the talks were taking place. The talks ended in a stalemate yet again.
Days later Bishop Rosa Chávez charged that "anonymous, faceless groups are promoting an escalation of violence so that the dialogue fails and the only door left open is the insanity of violence.” This “insanity of violence” came largely from the erroneous supposition of those responsible for the low-intensity war against the revolutionary movement and popular organization that the FMLN was pushing for negotiation because it was too weak to continue the war.
On the contrary, for more than a year, the FMLN had been planning direct assaults on the National Guard, the armed forces' General Staff and the Air Force. It was also opening a new urban war front, particularly in the capital, to demonstrate its capacity to fight more than just a war in the countryside and to make the oligarchy, the bourgeoisie and even the middle class feel the anxiety the war has imposed on the rural population. To this end, the FMLN had declared officers' urban residences and entertainment centers military targets.
On October 30, the FMLN attacked General headquarters. Army communications, intercepted by the FMLN, acknowledged significant casualties. The military responded to this act of war the very next day by attacking the offices of the Committee of Mothers and Family (4 wounded) and the union federation FENASTRAS (10 dead, among them a member of the UNTS Executive Committee). This brutal reaction against civilian organizations, the latter in broad daylight, led the FMLN to suspend the talks scheduled for November 2.
These attacks were the last straw; resorting to war became the only viable alternative. There could be no hope of changing the “state of terror” in the short term without changing the perception of FMLN weakness held by the armed forces, the ARENA government and the United States. On November 11, the FMLN launched the most powerful offensive in ten years of war. This time the offensive was against San Salvador, San Miguel, Zacatecoluca, San Vicente and Usulután, with special emphasis in urban neighborhoods of the Capital and San Miguel.
Revolutionary strength, military savageryOn Saturday morning, November 11, the FMLN attacked the National Guard barracks in San Salvador and, in the course of the day, other military objectives. By nightfall, it was clear that these were a cover for its fundamental objective: the guerrilla occupation of the capital's peripheral, industrial neighborhoods. Similar neighborhoods were occupied in San Miguel, the third largest city in the country, and in other urban centers.
The armed forces bragged that they would dislodge the guerrillas from the main barrios—Zacamil, Mejicanos, Cuscatancingo, Ciudad Delgado and Soyapango—in 48 hours. A state of emergency and a 6pm-6am curfew suspended all constitutional guarantees. In the following days, the National Assembly approved the anti- terrorist law; ARENA won votes from parties that had opposed this proposal in July.
As the armed forces' promises shattered against the inflamed revolutionary resistance and excellent logistics, panic seized those accustomed to achieving their objectives by repression when not through military operations. What Ellacuría dubbed “The night of the long knives” was planned.
The armed forces hurriedly united all radio transmissions under the military station, Cuscatlán. In the first 36 hours of combat, Radio Cuscatlán spoke in favor of “pruning” the entire left, airing threats and slander against prominent citizens and opposition leaders critical of the regime and often also of the FMLN. In these long hours, hate spilled out against the two bishops of San Salvador; against UCA rector Ignacio Ellacuría and the other Jesuits of the UCA; against Rubén Zamora, Guillermo Ungo and Héctor Oquelí, the three directors of the CD; against Dr. Colindres, leader of the PDC; and against Dr. Aguiñada Carranza, leader of the UDN. Statements by, among others, Vice President Merino and former Major D’Aubuisson in the tone of one possessed by evil, were reproduced on television and in the newspapers on Monday, November 13.
The mask is offThat same night, a group from the elite Atlacatl Battalion took advantage of the suspended guarantees to “inspect” the UCA professors' residences located on campus and in the Monsignor Romero Pastoral Center. The group, which was more interested in the arrangement of the habitations and the Center's offices than in a search for subversive literature, was directed by one of the lieutenants later accused of the multiple assassination. Two nights later the six Jesuits and their two housekeepers were murdered; the homes of leaders of the political opposition, union organizations and the University of El Salvador (UES) were also visited. All the others had calculated the danger and found hiding places, except for the wife of a dean of the UES, who was also murdered.
The designers of El Salvador's low-intensity warfare project, with their clean consciences, had not counted on fanaticism and panic. This act of savagery could rip away the democratic mask of that project.
The operation, which lasted hours and was far from silent, took place during curfew in a zone intensely guarded by the armed forces; the headquarters of the Chiefs of Staff and the Manuel José Arce military residences are within a kilometer of the UCA. Yet no security patrol responded to the ruckus. That same night began the indiscriminate bombing of the peripheral neighborhoods in San Salvador taken by the revolutionary movement, a luxury the armed forces could not afford a week later, when the guerrillas moved into the wealthy Escalón neighborhood and the Sheraton Hotel.
These two brutal deeds affected the results of the offensive. With nine years of attempts to professionalize a Central American army dissolved in one night of bestiality, the bipartisan consensus on military aid to El Salvador in the US Congress was deeply rent. And the justice of the FMLN's efforts to negotiate a meaningful peace was dramatized; Salvadoran society has been militarized since 1932, when 10,000 were massacred to pay for 100 lives taken in a peasant, indigenous and artisan insurrection.
The need for more than just empty electoral mechanisms had become harder to deny. The attitude of El Salvador's Attorney General, who defended the presumed assassins more than their accuser, underscored the absence of legal justice in El Salvador. While Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel, Dubcek, Laszlo Tokes, and others were being acclaimed democratic heroes in Eastern Europe, their counterparts in El Salvador were massacred as democratic subversives. And while Gorbachev abstained from intervening in Eastern Europe's upheaval, Bush said it was not the moment to cut aid to Cristiani's government and military.
A few weeks later, even The New York Times began to hint at evidence that one or more US military advisers participated in the secret meetings to plan the murders. There is also reason to suspect that the urban bombing missions, which finally led the guerrillas to make their strategic retreat, were piloted by members not of the Salvadoran Air force but of the US Air Force.
The offensive itself showed that the FMLN could move its troops into the capital without military interference; that a revolutionary army accustomed only to the highways of the interior had become familiar with the winding streets of the city; that in some neighborhoods this same army could sustain itself for more than 12 days despite the bombings, that in San Salvador’s entire peripheral zone the logistics created by the FMLN allowed it to shift battlegrounds from neighborhood to neighborhood; in sum, that the thesis of FMLN weakness was dead wrong.
The Salvadoran conflict entered a new phase. For the first time it reached the United Nations Security Council, albeit with little result; a strong majority in the UN General Assembly condemned the Salvadoran government.
The offensive also moved some civilian sectors adamantly opposed to the FMLN to favor a negotiated settlement to the war. Those who had been worn down by the prolonged conflict—the ones who consistently tell UCA pollsters that "only God' can end the war—were shaken out of their apathy by the bombing of the civilian population. Some became more sympathetic to the FMLN, while others became even less so. "If they cared about us, they wouldn't have occupied the neighborhoods and provoked the bombing” was an interpretation that seems even to have cooled the support of a few FMLN sympathizers. By contrast, more than a few who had collaborated with logistics in the neighborhoods took the next step of militant incorporation into the revolutionary project.
The FMLN says that it inflicted 7,000 casualties on the armed forces in 1989, 1,860 of them in the offensive—roughly the same as for the last three years. The armed forces in turn claim 3,036 FMLN casualties in November, and 10,864 for the year. They say they captured more than 2,000 guns, hundreds of artillery pieces and about 200 rocket launchers. Accurate statistics or not, both contenders have demonstrated their capacity to fully recover. In any case, the key is not to be found in the military balance of forces; it is in the political confrontation between two conceptions of society. Through a military mediation that lets neither contending project rest, the political confrontation is moving inexorably toward its denouement.
"Social market economy" blind to war and causesARENA’s economic program, characterized as a “social market economy,” has no memory for history. It attributes all economic evils to the Christian Democrats' “statizing” of the Salvadoran economy in this decade. The evils are easy to see; one has only to compare indicators at the two ends of the decade. The Gross Domestic Product fell 13.6% in 1978 values; exports dropped 50% compared to their 1979 values; bank deposits diminished 20% in 1978 terms; and, of little concern to ARENA, the current per-capita GDP of 620 colons put the average Salvadoran at 1960 levels.
The attribution of cause is where historic amnesia sets in. It was not supposed state interference. Then, as now, it was private enterprise's unwavering opposition to state interference to the small agrarian transformation project in 1976, to minimum wage increases during the coffee, cotton and sugar harvests. These ideas were not only socially sound, they were economically sound. Left unattended, they created two kinds of deficits: one in the labor force for the harvest, and the other, much more tremendous, in the satisfaction of the average Salvadoran's basic needs. That social injustice kindled the war. And it is the war, combined with the increasingly unfavorable international terms of trade, that has brought about the current economic disaster. Francisco Javier Ibisate, in the magazine Estudios Centroamericanos (ECA), put his finger on it: a “social market economy” cannot be simply a market economy where “social” is a word devoid of reality.
If the Salvadoran economy has not yet collapsed; it is because of the enormous quantity of dollars sent to family members by emigrants who have fled this war and the no less enormous amount of foreign aid, equivalent in 1987 to 11.6% of the GDP. But of this aid, according to US Congressional studies, three of every four dollars go to continue inflaming the war.
With ARENA in power, the decade of the eighties has come full circle economically, as it has in human rights abuses. On June 19, Cristiani launched his Emergency Economic Program with short-term stabilization measures to get out from under the internal imbalances and structural adjustment measures to favor exports. He increased the cost of public transportation and electricity, liberalized prices of 250 products, devalued the colon by floating the exchange rate (a dollar cost 5.58 colons in January and 6.82 in December), privatized foreign trade in coffee and sugar and increasingly liberalized exports. These measures had devastating consequences on the income of the impoverished classes and did not improve the overall economy during the second half of 1989.
The 1989 deficit in the country’s trade balance was an estimated 637 million colons, 181 million more than in 1988. The balance of payments deficit rose from 93 million colons in 1988 to 119 million in 1989. The fiscal deficit, not counting donations, reached 1.3 billion colons, 400 million more than in 1988. A decrease of $36.4 million in coffee export income and of 55 million colons in export taxes is anticipated for this year. The average international coffee prices in 1989-90 will be even lower than in 1988-89, and the November-December offensive seriously impeded the picking and sabotaged already processed coffee. It is not clear how ARENA plans to activate exports to generate the income with which to turn around the economy. Without a negotiated end to the war and economic as well as political democracy, which sets conditions of security and justice, the 70% of Salvador's population that is impoverished or extremely impoverished, will continue without prospects for their basic necessities.
From offensive to negotiationsIn the transition period between governments, the FMLN had made a new proposal: that the Cristiani government declare itself “provisional” and prepare new constituent and presidential elections. It was easy for Cristiani to refuse, given the “legitimacy” provided by his absolute majority in the first electoral round. In his inaugural address, however, he offered to continue the dialogue. The FMLN held back its response for several months with the hope of bringing together the opposition parties around a common position.
Meanwhile, in the fifth Central American presidential summit at Tela, Honduras in August, the Salvadoran conflict was put firmly on the agenda. The text of the accord, with respect to the FMLN, uses wording unacceptable to the revolutionary organization—that hostilities cease prior to further negotiation. In the appendix called “Joint Plan for the demobilization... of the Nicaraguan Resistance... and for assistance in the demobilization” of insurgent forces in the region, however, the other four presidents urged the Salvadoran president and the FMLN toward a “constructive dialogue” in the spirit of Esquipulas Il. This meant submitting both the cease-fire and any demobilization to democratization agreements and respect for human rights and setting forth certain obligations for reconciliation for the government and the FMLN.
With that impetus, the FMLN presented another proposal for the resumption of talks agreed to for September in Mexico. It centered on the demilitarization of Salvadoran society (self-purge of the military, trial for those guilty of the most notorious assassinations) and democratization of the country (reforms of the judiciary and the Constitution). The final step would be a cessation of hostilities followed by the progressive reincorporation of the FMLN into the country’s political life. The FMLN abandoned its position that the Cristiani government was illegitimate.
As we have already mentioned, the government negotiators took nothing seriously during the Mexico talks, or those that followed in San José.
In the Central American summit meeting in San Isidro Coronado, Costa Rica, a month after the FMLN launched its offensive, the Presidents paid written respect to the Salvadoran government for its supposed efforts to end the conflict peacefully and democratically. The FMLN could accept neither that language nor the omission of any condemnation of the Cristiani government's terrorist methods during the November offensive. Much less could the FMLN accept the demand that it renounce all armed action against the civilian population (which it had never carried out).
Geneva accords: UN plays a roleIn that summit, however, a seed was planted that led, after complex negotiations in the first months of 1990, to the signing of government-FMLN accords in Geneva on April 4. The San Isidro document "requests... that the United Nations Secretary General, with all his personal commitment possible, take the actions necessary to reinitiate the dialogue between the government of El Salvador and the FMLN and contribute to their successful development.”
It is here that revelations of the Salvadoran military's savagery and its relative impotence against FMLN strength have borne fruit. Doubtless after some heavy pressure from the United States, the Cristiani government, which substantially modified the FMLN proposal presents in March, accepted it without further conditions. The London Observer, a British weekly newspaper, reported that interviews with General Larios, Minister of Defense, and Colonel Ponce, head of the High Command, showed both to be convinced that the Salvadoran conflict could not be ended militarily.
Thus, in Geneva, one day after the most recent Central American summit ended in Montelimar, Nicaragua, UN Secretary General Pérez de Cuéllar announced that an accord had been reached to resume the interrupted negotiations. He said he had acted at the request of the Central American Presidents, in agreement with a July 27, 1989 resolution of the UN Security Council, and “at the request of the Government and the FMLN.” He added that the last two had already agreed to several resolutions to initiate a process that will achieve “in the shortest time period possible, under my auspices, the definitive end to the armed conflict” in El Salvador.
Methods for moving toward future accords include “direct dialogue between negotiating teams with the active participation of the Secretary General or his Representative,” who will mediate between the parties assured of the highest-level agreement to accept this mediation. Strict prudence is recommended during the process, leaving the Secretary General to officially comment on its progress. He may assist his role through confidential contacts with governments of other UN member states or with useful Salvadoran individuals or groups. Finally, it was accepted that other Salvadoran political parties and organizations have a role in the peace process and may be invited to the talks. This process, which it is assumed will “end the armed conflict through political means” and “promote the democratization of the country, guarantee the unrestricted respect of human rights and reunite Salvadoran society,” will be subject to UN verification, pending Security Council approval. Scheduled to begin in May 1990, the talks are to culminate by reincorporating the FMLN into the “civil, institutional and political [life] of the country," with full guarantees.
President Cristiani optimistically declared that 1990 could be the year of peace in El Salvador and that there is no reason the process should take more than six months. Comandante Shafick Jorge Handal, head of the FMLN delegation in Geneva, however, cautiously clarified that signing the accord still does not mean a cessation of hostilities; this will be achieved in the course of the negotiation process. Within the FMLN there are fears that the deaf opposition to the peace process—the extremist elements in the government, ARENA and the armed forces—may try to coopt the negotiations by moving them at a turtle's pace.
Neither the civilian population of the impoverished, indiscriminately-bombed neighborhoods—news agencies speak of more than 2,00 victims—nor the Jesuits assassinated with their two workers were the only victims of barbarity during the November offensive. Seven humble inhabitants of Cuscatancingo were massacred by government troops two days after the murder of the Jesuits. In the Jesuit's case, some soldiers have been accused of the assassination, but it is commonly suspected that the intellectual authors have still not been touched. In the case of the Cuscatancingo victims, in that of Monseñor Romero—the tenth anniversary of whose murder has just passed—and in the cases of the massive massacres in Río Sumpul and El Mozote, no one has been accused.
Nonetheless, the spilled blood of prominent religious university people, representing that torrent of martyred blood, has brought the first glimmer of peace to their country. It is only the first glimmer. US strategy is the unknown element that does not allow for excessive optimism.
Central America does not have a lower profile among Bush-Baker priorities despite the multiple stages on which US interests are playing these days—trade in the entire Pacific zone, and particularly the agreements for opening markets in Japan; preparation of a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union and discussions between the US, Europe and Soviet Union around conventional disarmament; the reaction to Gorbachev’s policies in Lithuania; the new political scenario in Eastern Europe; German reunification; economic and technological policies toward China; the road to talks between Israel and the Palestinians and the process toward gradual and profound changes in South Africa. In the first days of April, Secretary of State Baker visited Capitol Hill, concerned that a clause on aid to El Salvador would be introduced into the aid package to Panama and Nicaragua. Baker was willing to sacrifice speedy approval of aid for Panama and Nicaragua in order to avoid it.
Baker has two fears. One is that the brutal impact of the Jesuits' death and dissatisfaction with the slow arrest, trial and punishment of the guilty may irreparably break bipartisan consensus. Senators Kennedy and Kerry have introduced a bill to withhold military aid if the process does not reach a rapid conclusion. Senator Dodd would cut 50% of that aid, but reinstate it if an FMLN offensive “endangered the country.” Senator Leahy, taking a middle position, would cut the aid 50% with no possibility of restitution and would even be willing to affect undisbursed funds to the Salvadoran government already assigned by Congress.
Strong pressure has grown around these proposals from movements in solidarity with the people of El Salvador, especially from the religious community. In Central America Week alone, March 17 to 24, there were more than 600 acts of civil disobedience in the US. A strong movement has also arisen in El Salvador in support of Archbishop Rivera and Auxiliary Bishop Rosa Chávez, who have continuously been pressured to accept the conclusions of the Investigation Commission on the UCA assassinations “without politicizing them,” that is, without demanding deeper exploration. These threats only nourish the pressure on Congress, as do the statements of the Central American Jesuit Provincial, who argues that the investigation and its current conclusions are unsatisfactory.
Baker's other fear is that the FMLN will unleash a second major offensive, in the course of which the Salvadoran armed forces could commit other atrocities, undermining the remaining willingness in Congress to maintain military aid to El Salvador. The State Department leaned heavily on the Salvadoran military to get it to write a letter to Congress assuring its absolute subordination to Cristiani with respect to the negotiations. It was also rumored that Colonel Elena Fuentes, of the infamous First Infantry Brigade, would have attended the talks between the FMLN, government and UN in Mexico, prior to the Geneva accord.
Given these fears, there are several scenarios for the future of the negotiations. In skeleton form, they are: a) Vietnamization of the war and regionalization of the conflict; b) long-term instability with low-profile US management of the crisis; and c) serious negotiations that bring an end to the Salvadoran conflict in a process of authentic democratization.
The signing of the Geneva accords points toward the third scenario, but all will depend on whether the negotiation process is taken seriously, with movement toward real democratization and demilitarization. The Salvadoran government could try instead to coopt the negotiations by getting the FMLN to participate precipitously in elections, counting on a result similar to Nicaragua's elections from a people exhausted by war, economic crisis and uncertain possibilities of improvement.
Once Undersecretary of State for Latin American Affairs Bemard Aronson takes a greater part in the design of US policy toward Central America, it will be important to analyze the priority he gives to a peaceful resolution of the conflict in El Salvador. The ultimate goals would be the electoral neutralization or domestication of the FMLN, and later the URNG, similar to what has supposedly been achieved with the FSLN, as well as the progressive reduction, through purges and military aid cuts, of the Salvadoran armed forces. Behind this would be the new conviction that Central American militaries are inefficient and dangerous allies, always capable of committing massacres, drug trafficking and coups. (An important investigation is being carried out by several US communications media about the drug trafficking that passes through the Salvadoran Air Force Base at Ilopango). If this goal is achieved, the military budget would go directly to US bases in the region, creating regional security dependence on the US armed forces, the “best policy” for these fragile democracies. For the rest of 1990, the FMLN and the popular movements will have to reckon with these and other attempts at cooptation.