1984 and After

September 25, 2007

IN BOTH THE POLITICAL AND MILITARY arenas, it appears that the situation in El Salvador has become bogged down; there is no hope of the pres- ent deadlock leading anywhere but to a greater exacer- bation of the war. The United States, hostage to its own policies and backed into a corner by its own rhetoric, has chosen to promote a series of elections designed to buy time. It aims to use that time to evolve a military strategy capable of defeating the FMLN insurgents, and build the legitimacy required to convince an increas- ingly skeptical Congress that it should bear the cost of the enterprise. The contending forces in El Salvador, however, act on the basis of their own interests and according to their own agenda. The 1982 elections and the "National Unity" government that emerged served only to strengthen the most recalcitrant members of the Salva- dorean Right, to a point where they entered into open conflict with the goals of the United States for El Salvador. The 1984 elections, then, set out to resolve the power conflicts between the factions of the Right. But this presents the United States with a serious dilemma, since the Christian Democrat PDC (the party that so far has most closely embodied Washington's goals) seems to have no chance of guaranteeing a viable government, while ARENA (the other main contender and the standard-bearer of interests opposed to those of the United States) is unpalatable. All this has brought the PCN to the fore as the apparent U.S. favorite. However, the PCN has no prospect of forming a gov- ernment on its own; it would be obliged to seek an alliance with either the PDC or ARENA. Thus, the elec- tions not only fail to address the country's central prob- lem-the war; they seem incapable, too, of resolving the issue of power that they were designed to clarify. This electoral blind alley is set against the backdrop of serious problems for the armed forces, who seem unable either to stop the advance and military develop- ment of the FMLN, or to effectively assimilate the mounting levels of aid arriving from the United States. The Salvadorean vote will also take place in the context of the United States entering an election year, in which both Democrats and Republicans appear reluctant to highlight the issue of El Salvador and Central America. The Reagan Administration will have to stabilize the war at its present level if it wishes to prevent it from becoming a campaign issue. It seems to have reached the conclusion that maintaining the status quo on the battlefield means a substantial increase in military and economic assistance to El Salvador, combined with a series of military maneuvers on the Honduras-Salvador border, designed to put pressure on the insurgents' rear- guard. In view of the state of the Salvadorean armed forces and the special problems they face, military aid in itself will not be enough to check the advance of the insurgency. It is likely, however, to increase the social and economic cost of the war and-together with the maneuvers-to raise the level of direct U.S. involve- ment in the conflict. THE POLITICAL OPTION OFFERED BY THE FMLN-FDR, centered around a process of nego- tiations, seems for the time being to have no future. Though talks with official representatives of the Salva- dorean government and the U.S. special envoy pro- vided a curtain-raiser for possible negotiations, the elec- toral gambit will enable Washington to place talks on the back burner for a good year and a half-time enough, in the Administration's view, to build the mili- tary capability of the armed forces. At the same time, neither the FMLN-FDR, the Con- tadora group nor the members of the Socialist Interna- tional appear to have enough leverage to bring about negotiations whose agenda would go beyond setting the terms for participation in fresh elections of the sort that the FMLN-FDR has already rejected. In such circum- stances, only a dramatic military advance by the FMLN coupled with a striking new gesture of political flexi- bility from the Left, could convince the Administration that a negotiated settlement was preferable to military intervention. The elections scheduled for March 1984 seem, there- fore, to foreclose political options and place the stress on military ones. Given the dynamics of the situation so far, and the present Administration's propensity for military solutions, it is hard to envision a short-term scenario in which the United States can avoid becoming directly involved in the war. And that is not all: congres- sional approval of the new measures that the Reagan Administration is about to propose-based on the Kis- singer Commission Report-would make it difficult for any subsequent Administration to change course. This set of circumstances makes 1984 a critical year for El Salvador. There is an acute shortage of both time and political space needed if we are to avoid a worse catastrophe than the one already upon us. Both seem to be rapidly running out; nonetheless, some space re- mains, and it must be taken advantage of before it is too late. REPORT ON THE AMERICAS 46IF ONE THING HAS BECOME CLEAR OVER the last three years of armed conflict, it is that any political settlement unacceptable to the United States has only the dimmest hopes of survival; such a settle- ment would probably spend its brief lifespan trying to fend off attack. By the same token, a political settle- ment that fails to take the FMLN-FDR into account will have an equally slender chance of taking root. Second, any reordering of Salvadorean society, any political solution, will have to obey a set of real eco- nomic and political constraints, some domestic and some external. On the one hand, the economy is in ruins. Its reactivation will require huge inflows of foreign capital, which only the West is in a position to provide. It will also require the dynamism of the private sector. At the same time, the realities of geopolitics situate El Salvador in the immediate sphere of influence of the United States. For any social force in the country to ignore these conditioning factors would be tanta- mount to political suicide. The FMLN-FDR seems to have come to terms with this situation. Its efforts to broaden the base of its alliance, like its willingness to seek a pact that would guarantee U.S. national security, are a token of the Left's recognition of these constraints. They signify a real moderation-not merely a tactical modifica- tion-of the utopian proposals once sketched out by the Left. At the same time, there are a number of powerful groups within the country, some inside the armed forces and others in the private sector, who also understand these realities. What is more, they see the prolongation of the war as a serious menace to their own survival, and a mortal threat to the very survival of El Salvador as a nation. Over and above these groups are the "silenced ma- jority," who see with alarm that the present rhythm of the war is forcing them to choose between ever more polarized camps. They do not want this; indeed, the prospect frightens them. These sectors recognize the existence of the FMLN-FDR; in doing so, they have come to exert a certain pressure which the contending parties in the March elections cannot ignore, forcing them to grapple head on with the problem of the war and delineate a clear position or alternative vis-a-vis the dialogue offered by the insurgents. At the same time, they demand of the FMLN-FDR a concrete political manifesto that will allow them to visualize their likely political role and economic freedoms in the new social order the insurgents are proposing. Third, a number of Latin American countries are ex- tremely worried that the prolongation of the war in El Salvador is leading to a regionalization of the conflict, which would pose a threat to their own national secur- ity. It is in these nations' vital interest to mediate be- tween the warring factions and bring the fighting to an end. It is also in their vital interest to head off any show of force by the United States in Latin America, which could eventually jeopardize their own sovereignty. G IVEN THIS ARRAY OF FACTORS-SOME of which are positive-it appears that the greatest barrier to resolving the Salvadorean crisis is the unyield- ing political will that sees the military defeat of the Salvadorean rebels as a vicarious means of restoring U.S. "credibility" as a dominant world power. True, there is no guarantee that a change in that attitude would bring about a short-term solution. But there is every indication that as long as the United States re- mains inflexible, the space for political alternatives is closed, leaving the military road as the only real option -not that military means can ever provide a genuine solution to the Salvadorean crisis. Even if it proves pos- sible to eradicate the insurgents, the structural causes that brought them into being will remain and will give rise to fresh rebellion. A change of political will in Washington would clear the way for a reordering of priorities and a more realistic appraisal of both the real extent of U.S. power in El Salvador and the relative autonomy, beyond Washing- ton's control, of the actors in the Salvadorean drama. It is well within the bounds of reason to suppose that with this shift of attitude would come a recognition of new goals; primary among these would be the absolute cessation of all forms of state terrorism. This would mean a genuine and comprehensive purge of the mili- tary and security apparatus, which would in turn open up fresh space for political action, allowing all social forces in El Salvador to carry out their activities free from fear and hindrance. All the available evidence suggests that a dialogue between the contending social forces in El Salvador is feasible and that sufficient international actors are interested in serving as mediators and safeguarding the outcome of the talks. If negotiations depend on Washington changing a political posture that arises from its false diagnosis of the Salvadorean crisis, then a re-evaluation of the premises that led to that false diag- nosis is overdue. It is entirely possible that El Salvador is a matter of vital concern, in the mind of the Adminis- tration, for the national security of the United States. For El Salvador and the Salvadorean people, it is a ques- tion of continued survival as a nation. San Salvador, February 1984

Tags: El Salvador, civil war, Elections, FMLN, US policy

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