EL SALVADOR A Negotiated Revolution

September 25, 2007

Shortly before midnight on New
Year's Eve, at the United Nations Plaza
in New York City, Salvadoran Presi-
dent Alfredo Cristiani and Comandante
Leonel Gonzalez of the Farabundo
Martf National Liberation Front
(FMLN) reached agreement on a series
of social and economic issues that for
two weeks had blocked a final settle-
ment of the decade-long civil war in El
Salvador. As the two men were turning
their notes over to a U.N. stenographer,
a messenger rushed in to announce that
Armando Calder6n Sol of the ruling
George Vickers isa professorofsociol-
ogy at Brooklyn College and the CUNY
Graduate Center. He is also director of
the Institutefor CentralAmerican Stud-
ies in New York.
ARENA party and FMLN Comandante
Joaqufn Villalobos, who had been meet-
ing separately, had also come to a con-
sensus. The two agreements, however,
were not identical.
With the clock ticking down to the
midnight expiration of U.N. Secretary
General Javier Pdrez de Cuellar's term
of office, President Cristiani went
through the other draft indicating what
he would accept and what he would
reject. At 11:55 p.m., U.N. mediators
informed waiting reporters that a com-
prehensive settlement was at hand.
The eleventh-hour flurry of activity
was a fitting end to almost two years of
negotiations which seemed constantly
to teeter on the verge of collapse, only
to be salvaged by last-minute conces-
sions from one side or the other. De-
spite interim agreements on human
rights monitoring (in July 1990) and a
package of constitutional amendments
(in April 1991), the fundamental issues
at the heart of the negotiations were not
resolved until the final hours of the
final day.
German military strategist Carl von
Clausewitz once described warfare as a
continuation of political conflict by
other means. The Salvadoran peace
accords represent an effort to move in
the opposition direction: to define the
conditions and rules under which a
military conflict can be re-converted to
strictly political struggle.
The main loser, at least on paper, is
the Salvadoran armed forces. The mili-
tary will be reduced in size and mis-
sion, and will lose its autonomy from
REPORT ON THE AMERICAS 4civilian control. An independent com-
mission will review the record of every
officer and decide which to retain. The
Treasury Police and National Guard are
to be abolished, and a new national
police force is to be built from scratch.
Legislation is pending that is designed
to eliminate orcontrol the private armed
units that have often operated as right-
wing death squads.
Despite these changes, neither the
existence of the military nor the preser-
vation of privileges associated with
military life is in question. Military
officers will not be punished for past
abuses, with the possible exception of
prominent cases of human rights viola-
tions (such as the 1989 murder of five
Jesuit priests and, on the FMLN side,
the 1991 execution of two wounded
U.S. helicopter pilots). Those will be
decided by a"''Truth Commission," com-
prised of three foreigners, which is free
to choose the cases it will consider and
may recommend prosecution. The gov-
ernment and the FMLN have promised
to carry out the commission's recom-
mendations. The Legislative Assembly
plans to review its recent amnesty proc-
lamation after the Truth Commission
concludes its investigation, so even
those the commission finds responsible
may go free.
For the ARENA-controlled govern-
ment and the business community, the
ceasefire means an end to the FMLN-
sponsored sabotage that has crippled
the country's economic infrastructure.
The FMLN agrees to accept the legiti-
macy of constitutional democracy and
of the Cristiani government. The Front
also acknowledges the government's
right to pursue neo-liberal economic
policies, though not their desirability.
In exchange for this more favorable
economic environment, the government
grants significant concessions to the
FMLN. The government acknowledges
the legitimacy of the FMLN as a politi-
cal party. The FMLN's legal status will
enable it to continue to struggle for its
political program, parts of which the
accords actually enact. The government
agrees to fully implement existing agrar-
ian reform law and to "harmonize and
unify" all agrarian legislation in a new
Agrarian Code. The government also
promises to moderate the effects of
economic adjustment policies on the
poor and to enact a $1 billion National
Reconstruction Plan to rebuild the "con-
flictive zones," areas under FMLN con-
trol during most of the war that were
most affected by the fighting.
Despite these real achievements, the
FMLN faces serious obstacles to main-
taining the same degree of political
influence it enjoyed as the armed van-
guard of forces seeking change. The
FMLN's strength has been its military
capability and its clandestine organiza-
tion. With the cessation of hostilities,
the first of these becomes irrelevant and
the second more a liability than an as-
Civilian, democratic and "popular"
sectors of Salvadoran society stand to
benefit from the accords. The FMLN's
military strength helped create greater
opportunities for the opposition as a
whole, but the guerrilla front did not
represent all opposition forces. The
negotiation process revealed and rein-
forced a reality which the "two-sided"
nature of military conflict often ob-
scured: that the FMLN is part of a
broader spectrum of political and social
forces seeking fundamental change in
Salvadoran society.
The peace accords implicitly recog-
nize this pluralistic political environ-
ment. Responsibility for supervising
implementation and verifying compli-
ance with the accords is vested in the
National Commission for Consolida-
tion of Peace (COPAZ), which is com-
Peasants occupy land in the conflictive zone of Chalatenango. The key
political battles will be over social and economic policy.
prised of two members from the gov-
ernment (one of whom represents the
armed forces), two from the FMLN,
and one each from the six political
parties represented in the Legislative
Assembly. Business, labor and con-
sumer groups have not been shunted
aside either. The government agrees to
participate with representatives of these
sectors in a social-economic "forum"
that will try to develop a consensus on
economic stabilization policies and re-
construction programs.
The Significance of the Accords
"A revolution achieved by negotia-
tion" is how incoming U.N. Secretary
General Boutros Boutros-Ghali de-
scribed the accords at the formal sign-
ing ceremony in Mexico City on Janu-
ary 16. The accords do go significantly
beyond the issues more commonly dealt
with in negotiations of this type, such as
cease-fire, demobilization and amnesty.
The accords propose profound changes in
the power and purview of key institutions
ofSalvadoran life, and thus lay the ground-
work for further change.
Although the accords do not end the
economic and political dominance of
the coffee-growing elite, for example,
they abolish or weaken the principal
mechanisms of repression which the
elite has traditionally used to maintain
its power. Military reform and the abo-
Jlition of security forces responsible for
human rights abuse will make it easier
to transform the skewed land tenure
system and economic inequality at the
root of political conflict in El Salva-
The accords do not, however, guar-
antee a new social and economic order
for El Salvador. Some provisions even
reinforce the authority of the ARENA-
controlled government. The govern-
ment will effectively be in charge of
implementing the National Reconstruc-
tion Plan in the conflictive zones where
the most far-reaching social and eco-
nomic changes will occur.
Unlike the provisions dealing with
political and security matters, the so-
cial and economic agreements are
couched in legalistic, frequently vague,
and sometimes contradictory language.
Although the government promises to
try to purchase occupied land in the
conflictive zones from absentee own-
ers and turn it over to current tenants,
for example, if landowners refuse to
sell, the government only pledges to
relocate tenant-occupiers to other land
in the same general area. In deliber-
ately general terms, the accords em-
power a special commission to "adopt
the decisions and measures" necessary
to "facilitate" the resolution of conflicts
between prior owners and current ten-
ants. Adding a final note of ambiguity,
the government also reserves the right
to evict tenants who occupied land after
July 1991.
These government promises, nebu-
lous as they are, apply only to the con-
flictive zones. The government makes
no commitment to land reform outside
these zones beyond pledging to carry
out existing law. Neither do the ac-
cords directly address problems of ur-
ban misery and employment needs
outside the conflictive zones. And no
timetable was set for organizing the
social-economic forum involving government, business, labor and consumer .epresentatives. All of this ambiguity reflects
an un- lerlying reality: although the accords rormally end military hegemony and he oligarchy's absolute hold on power, hey do not resolve the political conflict hat led to military confrontation. Ac- cnowledging the work that lies before hem, FMLN leaders speak of a "new xriod" of political struggle among in- .erest groups that will
be governed by lew rules of democratic competition. [nternal FMLN documents speak of a 'new concept of revolution" and a "new
concept of victory," both of which stress the notion that progressive de- mocratization will ultimately lead tc the state's subordination to civil soci- ety. The social-economic arena remains the fundamental political battlefield. After the accords were signed, security forces evicted peasants charged with "illegally" occupying land in conflic- tive zones. The government blames the FMLN for encouraging a wave of new occupations. FMLN leaders accuse the government of violating provisions re- quiring it to respect existing land ten- ancy while legal solutions
are worked
out. Indeed, every major provision has been the subject of disputes over inter- pretation and complaints of non-com- pliance.
Prospects for the FMLN
The end of the armed struggle means the FMLN can compete openly as a political force in Salvadoran society. But the end of fighting is also likely to test the cohesiveness of the rebel alli- ance. Temtorial, sectoral and ideologi- cal differences within the guerrilla front will act as centrifugal forces tugging at the center. These tensions are rooted in the di- verse characteristics of the five organi- zations that make up the FMLN. Two groups-the Popular Liberation Forces (FPL) and the Revolutionary Army of the People (ERPFprovided most of the armed combatants and military lead- ership during the civil war, and con- trolled significant temtory and popula- tion in Chalatenangoand Mod vrov- inces, respectivel;. They have
a pre- dominantly peasant membership and in rural areas their local leaders are heavily influenced by liberation theology and often became active through Christian base communities. The National Resistance (RN), the Communist Party (PC) and the Revolu- tionary Party of Central American Work- ers (PRTC) had some combat units, but controlled little territory or population. Their primary arena of struggle was organizing and mobilizing trade union and other "sectoral" support, popular organizations, and international solidar- ity. Many RN supporters are middle- class intellectuals in San Salvador. The
PC has backing in the labor movement and among intellectuals, in addition to some influence in rural areas outside Chalatenango and Morazh. The PRTC organized urban commandos. The FPL and the ERP are ideologi- cally quite different from each other and are competitors for the leadership of the Left. But with the end of armed struggle, they share some common in- terests. They face the immediate prob- lem of finding economic resources to support ex-combatants and their fami- lies. Beyond that, they must create eco- nomic activities independent of gov- ernment control that can provide em- ployment and goods to their supporters
as well as generate funds for political
organizing. They are keenly aware that
the rural population in areas they con-
trol will not be willing to bear the
same level of economic sacrifice as
during wartime. Both groups also place
a high priority on insuring that their
supporters will be able to hold onto land
occupied during the past decade.
For the smaller organizations that
lack a territorial and mass base, contin-
ued political struggle through social
movements is essential. The RN's in-
fluence, for example, derived from its
clandestine affiliation with key lead-
ers of important popularorganizations.
It must now seek to win support from
the rank and file of those organiza-
tions. Although all five groups will
seek to expand their support in urban
areas, the FPL and the ERP must de-
vote considerable effort to consolidat-
ing their influence in the territories
they control.
Given these different characteris-
tics and interests, every strategic and
tactical issue facing the FMLN in the
post-accord period has the potential to
generate ideological and organizational
conflict. Despite the fact that there is a
consensus within the FMLN on the
need to establish a new political party to
serve as the electoral vehicle of the
Front, for example, the RN views such
a party warily because it fears that the
FPL and ERP will numerically domi-
The Struggle Ahead
At the official signing ceremony in
Mexico City President Cristiani said,
"We understand that what begins from
this moment is not the re-establishment
ofa pre-existing peace, but the inaugura-
tion of an authentic peace founded on
social consensus, on basic harmony be-
tween social, political and economic sec-
tors, and, overall, on a conception of the
country as a totality, without exclusions
of any sort."
Over the course of almost two years
of intense negotiations, members of the
negotiating teams for the government
and the FMLN built up enough mutual
trust to acknowledge that the other side
seriously wanted peace and would com-
ply with agreements reached. The prob-
lem is that their constituencies, and other
political players such as the extreme
Right, were not at the negotiating table,
and thus did not share in building this
new relationship. The wave of euphoria
that washed across the country follow-
ing the signing of the accords on Janu-
ary 16 has dissipated in the face of long-
standing barriers of hatred and instinc-
tive mistrust. It will take time to erode
those barriers, and the calendarof imple-
mentation set by the accords does not
grant much time.
The first test of whether the ac-
cords can change the political dynam-
ics of Salvadoran society came on
March 1, when the first provisions
Nazarlo de Jesdis Graclas, a union organizer, was the first death-squad victim since the ceasefire beaan. The military has so far shown
dealing with military and security is-
sues were to be implemented. As of
late April, the armed forces were still
showing considerable reluctance to
comply with the accords.
Among the questions still pending
are: Will the Treasury Police and Na-
tional Guard be truly abolished, and not
simply relabeled? Can the new profes-
sional, national police force, comprised
primarily of people who were not com-
batants on either side, be rapidly de-
ployed? Will the armed forces really be
purged of officers guilty of human rights
abuses and will it be reduced by at least
50%? Will the death squads cease to
operate? Only ifand when these issues are
resolved will Salvadorans believe that a
"new period"ofpolitical struggleby peace-
ful means is at hand.
If the military provisions are imple-
mented, we can expect a prolonged and
vigorous political struggle over the so-
cial, political and economic provisions
of the accords, the reconstruction pro-
gram, and the 1994 elections. The gov-
ernment will likely use the reconstruc-
tion program to try to isolate the FMLN
by offering economic incentives to those
who support the government and by
creating parallel mass organizations to
compete with FMLN-controlled groups.
The government also hopes to stimulate
economic growth so that ARENA can
run in 1994 as the party of peace and
Opposition forces hope to forge a
center-left electoral alliance. They rec-
ognize, however, that even with a
united opposition, ARENA's formi-
dable electoral machine will be diffi-
cult to defeat. Already disagreements
have arisen about whether such an
alliance must support a Christian
Democrat for president, and about how
to allocate candidate slots for the Leg-
islative Assembly.
The accords do not resolve the fun-
damental causes of the civil war. The
struggle to change or preserve the tradi-
tional order has not ended. President
Cristiani's vision of a long-term har-
mony of interests will likely prove illu-
sory. Nevertheless, the accords do es-
tablish the parameters of political
struggle in El Salvador for the foresee-
able future. Given the excesses and
destruction of the last decade, to be able
to say that parameters exist at all is no
small achievement.

Tags: El Salvador, negotiations, Peace Accords, FMLN, Alfredo Cristiani

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