El Salvador

September 25, 2007

The overthrow of the govern- ment of General Carlos Romero in El Salvador by reformist military of- ficers has done little to end the in- tense class struggle which has made Central America's smallest country number one on the U.S.'s Latin American crisis list. After more than four years of repression, torture, disappear- ances and the growth of powerful mass organizations of rural and ur- ban workers committed to social- ist transformation, junior officers of El Salvador's regular army in collaboration with intellectuals from the country's Central American University deposed Romero in a bloodless coup and retired 85% of the army's col- onels. Creating a civilian-military junta which represents the in- terests of Romero's moderate bourgeois opposition, the military immediately faced demonstrations and armed gun battles from the three mass organizations and their respective guerrilla armies which had led the fight against the brutal repression of both the Romero and its predecessor regimes. Within days, the largest of the mass organizations, the 80,000 member People's Revolutionary Block (BPR), characterized the new junta as "faithful servants of the ruling classes and American im- perialism pretending to give a new iraage to the fascistoide military tyranny." The Block immediately went to the streets in protest. They occupied the Ministries of NovlDec 1979 Economy and Labor, holding the newly named ministers of each as hostages until the junta promised to try to meet their demands. The other two mass organiza- tions, the Front for Unified Popular Action (FAPU) and the People's Leagues-28 of February (LP-28), fought the security forces in the streets as they protested U.S. and military domination of their coun- try. The Leagues attacked the U.S. embassy in a forty-five minute gun battle that left two American marines slightly wounded. After three weeks of junta rule, over 100 leftist militants were dead, killed by security forces of the new government. THE BOURGEOIS & LEFT OPPOSITIONS IN CONFLICT The intense conflict of the junta's first month reflected, in part, a split that had been develop- ing for the last five years within the political opposition. As electoral fraud and repression destroyed the people's confidence in chang- ing their country's unjust socio- economic system, the traditional opposition parties began to lose popular support to a new form of political organization: coalitions of mass-based organizations with an openly Marxist perspective sus- tained by guerrilla vanguards. The popular organizations have articu- lated the frustration and rage of El Salvador's impoverished masses -among the poorest in Latin America. THE POPULAR ORGANIZATIONS The largest of them-the Peo- ple's Revolutionary Block-was formed in 1975 and is composed of organizations of rural and urban workers, students, teachers and slum dwellers. Its growth in the last two years from 20,000 to 80,000 members has been phe- nomenal. Its political strategy is "prolonged people's war" as it works to create a farmworker- urban worker alliance with "pro- letarian hegemony" leading to so- cialism. The Block refuses all alliances with either the other popular organizations or the re- formist opposition. The oldest of the popular organizations is the Front for Unified Popular Action (FAPU). Like the Block, it is composed of separate groups of workers, students and intellectuals. In early September it called for a general insurrection against the Romero regime-a line it still maintains. Before that, FAPU had worked toward an anti-fascist united front against the Romero government. The third and smallest of the three popular organizations, the People's Leagues-28 of February (LP-28) was formed in 1977 after a post-election massacre. It tends to be more student-dominated than the other two groups. Originally espousing a strategy of a national- ist united front with emphasis on involving progressive military men, the Leagues called for a general insurrection immediately after the junta took power. Shortly there- after, however, when the junta pledged support to the Common Platform-a statement of reform- ist political and economic objec- tives drawn up by the three tradi- tional opposition parties, of which the Leagues was also a signatory -they offered the junta their sup- port. But when the junta failed to make an adequate initial account- ing of the 176 persons who had "disappeared" under the Romero regime, the Leagues took to the streets again. THE GUERILLAS Operating clandestinely since the early 1970's and continuing in opposition to the junta are three urban guerrilla armies, each associated with one of the popular organizations. The largest and most feared is the Popular Libera- tion Forces-Faribundo Marti (FPL). Operating with 1,000-2,000 militants, the FPL is believed to be the vanguard organization of the Block. It was founded in 1970 after a split within the Salvadorean Communist Party (PCS) over the role of armed struggle and takes its name from the founder of the PCS who was a lieutenant of Nicaragua's Sandino. The Armed Forces of National Resistance, the FARN, has at- tracted the greatest international attention through its kidnapping of multinational business executives. It is the armed wing of the National Resistance and supports FAPU. It emerged in 1975 from a split within the third guerrilla force, the People's Revolutionary Army (ERP), after the latter executed Roque Dalton, an ERP member and El Salvador's most famous poet. This third group, the ERP, was also founded in 1970. Supporting the LP-28, the ERP is the armed wing of the Salvadorean Revolu- tionary Party (PRS). Rumors have circulated that the long-anticipated unity of these three leftist forces (both the popular organizations and guerrillas) is imminent. But nothing concrete has yet materialized. THE MODERATE OPPOSITION The left's struggle for unity in the weeks before the coup was mirrored by a similar unity move- ment among the traditional opposi- tion parties. In fact, a kind of race was being run as- each force sensed Romero's demise. Led by the National Democratic Union- the legal expression of the Moscow-oriented Salvadorean Communist Party-the two other parties (the Christian Democratic Party and the social democratic National Revolutionary Movement) and several CP and social democratic unions drew up the Common Platform, a statement setting forth a program of political and social reforms. This document became very significant when, among its first acts, the junta pro- mised its implementation. The Common Platform calls for the release of all political prisoners, the right to political organization and to strike, an increase in the minimum wage, and "access" by the peasants "to the use and ownership of the land." It is a reformist document, but in the context of El Salvador's political economic system the possibility of its implementation is dramatic. THE NEW GOVERNMENT The new junta itself is heavily technocratic, particularly in the persons of its two military repre- sentatives and the junta's spokes- person, the U.S. trained engineer, Ramon Mayorga. It also shows considerable U.S. influence. Both the colonels have received ad- vanced military training with the U.S. armed forces. In the late six- ties and early seventies, Mayorga was head of the U.S.-promoted and aided national community development program in El Salvador. The private sector's representative on the junta, Mario Andino, is manager of the multi- national Phelps-Dodge Corpora- tion, representing the industrialists of the Salvadorean bourgeoisie, whose development has been the objective of U.S. economic policy in El Salvador since the 1950's. The fifth member of the junta is Guillermo Ungo, secretary-general of the National Revolutionary Movement (MNR), the small social democratic party. He represents the Common Platform on the jun- ta. A year ago Ungo visited the U.S. on a State Department fellow- ship. U.S. REACTION The U.S. has given very strong verbal support to the junta, cou- pled with promises of military and economic aid. U.S. policy in El Salvador for the last twenty years has been to foster a strong anti- communist military while seeking reforms that would make the country more attractive to multi- national investment. Since the in- itial uprising in Nicaragua in 1978, State Department officials have worried about a similar explosion in El Salvador bred by decades of repression and failed develop- ment. When the Sandinistas won, a major effort was launched to prevent "another Nicaragua." Although evidence of direct U.S. involvement in Romero's over- throw is circumstantial, it is very clear that, at least .for the short term, the State Department got what it wanted: a moderate government pledged to respect human rights, make modest social reforms, and be respectful of U.S. NovlDec 1979 interests. What U.S. policy makers seem to be hoping is that the fatigue and disgust with violence and death in the country will over- come Salvadorean desires for radical social change. The popular organizations, however, will not go away. To them, the junta and its U.S. sup- porters aborted the people's revolution. They promise con- tinued struggle. If they achieve uni- ty, the junta's days may be few.

Tags: El Salvador, protests, repression, popular organizations, guerillas

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