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- set. 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. VOLUME XXV, NUMBER 5 (MAY 1992) 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- dor. 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- nate. 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 prosperity. 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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