EL SALVADOR The New and Old War

September 25, 2007

El Salvador no longer dominates
the headlines from Central America.
The foreign press corps has dwindled
to a handful of reporters. Most cover
the entire region and spend the bulk of
their time in Managua or the contra
camps in Honduras. 'The American
public has lost interest in El Sal-
vador," their editors tell them. There
is no debate in Congress on the issue.
Even the recent elections did not draw
a crowd.
The big story this week is that guer-
rilla commander JoaquIn Villalobos,
reputed to be the FMLN'S top military
strategist, is dead. The head of the
Armed Forces Press Office takes out
his silver pointer and shows us on a
map the area where Villalobos was
hit, and the flight path of the helicop-
ter that came from Nicaragua to pick
up his corpse. Radio communications
have been intercepted, he says, re-
vealing plans for his funeral. But three
days later, a delegation from the
United States, headed by former Con-
gressman Jim Shannon, meets with
Villalobos in the town of PerquIn in
Morazan province. A moment of
drama has passed.
"Low-intensity conflict," the term now in vogue to describe El Sal-
vador's war, just does not keep the
TV cameras rolling. Both the army
and the FMLN claim high casualties
on the other side, but the military con-
flict has become a slow war of attri-
tion, a stalemate that takes a regular
quota of lives each week with no end
in sight. The army is more sophisti-
cated in its methods these days, plac-
ing greater emphasis on "psychologi- cal operations" and "civic action."
The infamous Treasury Police now
distribute toys. Helicopters "rescue"
civilians fleeing army ground sweeps
and take them to the nearest garrison
to watch propaganda films, shower
and eat a good meal. From there, the
army takes them to already overflow-
ing camps for displaced persons-part of the process of emptying the sea to
catch the fish.
The guerrillas are less visible than
they were a year ago, operating in
smaller units, ambushing army patrols
and inflicting heavy damage on the
country's economic infrastructure. On
April 9, they made headlines, how-
ever, by attacking the village of Santa
Cruz Loma, 35 miles southeast of the
capital, and killing both armed mem-
bers of the local civil defense unit and
unarmed civilians, including several
children. The archbishop denounced the attack in his Sunday homily.
Former U.N. Ambassador Jeane
Kirkpatrick visited the battlesite on a
one-day trip to El Salvador, assuring
ample coverage on the evening news.
Even Victors Stunned
But the more subtle and complex
story in El Salvador today is the politi-
cal battle being waged behind the
scenes. The results of the recent elec-
tions stunned even the victors.
Duarte's Christian Democratic Party
won 153 of 202 mayoral posts, and 33
of the 60 seats in the National Assem-
bly. But real power in El Salvador has
never been determined at the ballot
box. Napoleon Duane's control of the
National Assembly does not translate
automatically into the ability-or the
political will-to curb human rights
abuses, punish those responsible,
carry out reforms and pursue peace
talks with the Left.
The Right is in disarray following
its debacle in the March elections, but
its resiliency should not be underesti-
mated. Already there are signs of re-
grouping, with the partial eclipse of
Roberto D'Aubuisson and the rise of
a "respectable" new right-wing par- ty, Patria Libre (Free Fatherland),
headed by former ARENA deputy,
Hugo Harrera.
Moreover, the Right's tremendous
leverage over the economy is a power-
ful bargaining chip with Duarte, as is
its influence over hard-line sectors of
the military. The armed forces, still
the ultimate arbiter of political life in
El Salvador, hold veto power over any
and all initiatives. Unconditional U.S.
support for the war effort has made
them more confident of winning a
military victory, and less inclined to
seriously engage in negotiations.
During his first 10 months in office,
Napoleon Duane dedicated himself to
building bridges to the Right, to mak-
ing his presidency acceptable to his
long-time enemies, the army and the
private sector. He did so at the ex-
pense of his supporters within the
trade union movement and the peas-
antry, who, lacking alternatives, nonetheless supported the Christian
Democrats in the Assembly elections.
Now, however, they expect results.
Duarte is no longer blocked by the
Right majority in the Assembly. There is concern within Duarte's
own party that he will continue to
negotiate more with the Right than
with the Left. But countervailing pres-
sures are mounting, as trade unions,
Christian base communities, and other
groups of the Left and center begin to
cautiously stretch the new political
space created by the Assembly elec-
tions. Patience is running out among
The New and the Old War
Soldier In Usuluton
MAY/JUNE 1985 9
El Salvador
The New and the Old War
BY JANET SHENK
El Salvador no longer dominates
the headlines from Central America.
The foreign press corps has dwindled
to a handful of reporters. Most cover
the entire region and spend the bulk of
their time in Managua or the contra
camps in Honduras. "The American
public has lost interest in El Sal-
vador," their editors tell them. There
is no debate in Congress on the issue.
Even the recent elections did not draw
a crowd.
The big story this week is that guer-
rilla commander Joaquin Villalobos,
reputed to be the FMLN's top military
strategist, is dead. The head of the
Armed Forces Press Office takes out
his silver pointer and shows us on a
map the area where Villalobos was
hit, and the flight path of the helicop-
ter that came from Nicaragua to pick
up his corpse. Radio communications
have been intercepted, he says, re-
vealing plans for his funeral. But three
days later, a delegation from the
United States, headed by former Con-
gressman Jim Shannon, meets with
Villalobos in the town of Perquin in
Morazin province. A moment of
drama has passed.
"Low-intensity conflict," the term
now in vogue to describe El Sal-
vador's war, just does not keep the
TV cameras rolling. Both the army
and the FMLN claim high casualties
on the other side, but the military con-
flict has become a slow war of attri-
tion, a stalemate that takes a regular
quota of lives each week with no end
in sight. The army is more sophisti-
cated in its methods these days, plac-
ing greater emphasis on "psychologi-
cal operations" and "civic action."
The infamous Treasury Police now
distribute toys. Helicopters "rescue"
civilians fleeing army ground sweeps
and take them to the nearest garrison
to watch propaganda films, shower
and eat a good meal. From there, the
army takes them to already overflow-
ing camps for displaced persons-part
of the process of emptying the sea to
Soldier in Usulutin
catch the fish.
The guerrillas are less visible than
they were a year ago, operating in
smaller units, ambushing army patrols
and inflicting heavy damage on the
country's economic infrastructure. On
April 9, they made headlines, how-
ever, by attacking the village of Santa
Cruz Loma, 35 miles southeast of the
capital, and killing both armed mem-
bers of the local civil defense unit and
unarmed civilians, including several
children. The archbishop denounced
the attack in his Sunday homily.
Former U.N. Ambassador Jeane
Kirkpatrick visited the battlesite on a
one-day trip to El Salvador, assuring
ample coverage on the evening news.
Even Victors Stunned
But the more subtle and complex
story in El Salvador today is the politi-
cal battle being waged behind the
scenes. The results of the recent elec-
tions stunned even the victors.
Duarte's Christian Democratic Party
won 153 of 202 mayoral posts, and 33
of the 60 seats in the National Assem-
bly. But real power in El Salvador has
never been determined at the ballot
box. Napole6n Duarte's control of the
National Assembly does not translate
automatically into the ability-or the
political will-to curb human rights
abuses, punish those responsible,
carry out reforms and pursue peace
talks with the Left.
The Right is in disarray following
its debacle in the March elections, but
its resiliency should not be underesti-
mated. Already there are signs of re-
grouping, with the partial eclipse of
Roberto D'Aubuisson and the rise of
a "respectable" new right-wing par-
ty, Patria Libre (Free Fatherland),
headed by former ARENA deputy,
Hugo Barrera.
Moreover, the Right's tremendous
leverage over the economy is a power-
ful bargaining chip with Duarte, as is
its influence over hard-line sectors of
the military. The armed forces, still
the ultimate arbiter of political life in
El Salvador, hold veto power over any
and all initiatives. Unconditional U.S.
support for the war effort has made
them more confident of winning a
military victory, and less inclined to
seriously engage in negotiations.
During his first 10 months in office,
Napole6n Duarte dedicated himself to
building bridges to the Right, to mak-
ing his presidency acceptable to his
long-time enemies, the army and the
private sector. He did so at the ex-
pense of his supporters within the
trade union movement and the peas-
antry, who, lacking alternatives,
nonetheless supported the Christian
Democrats in the Assembly elections.
Now, however, they expect results.
Duarte is no longer blocked by the
Right majority in the Assembly.
There is concern within Duarte's
own party that he will continue to
negotiate more with the Right than
with the Left. But countervailing pres-
sures are mounting, as trade unions,
Christian base communities, and other
groups of the Left and center begin to
cautiously stretch the new political
space created by the Assembly elec-
tions. Patience is running out among
MAY/JUNE 1985
1
I II
9those who have gone to the polls three
times in the last three years.
Travelling recently to El Salvador's
western provinces with a delegation
organized by the Commission on U.S-Central American Relations
reinforced this sense that a deep frus-
tration is building. The country is in
transition, and how power will be re-
distributed is still to be determined.
Resistant to Political Organizing
Sonsonate province, home of the
majestic Izalco volcano, was once the
heart of El Salvador's indigenous
Lenca and Pipil culture. It was also
the epicenter of the peasant uprising that shook El Salvador in 1932 and
ended in the massacre of 30,000
people. Today, the older generation still speaks Nahuatl as well as
Spanish, and women in the outlying
villages wear the long, wrap-around skirts of cloth hand-woven in Pan-
chimalco. But the legacy of 1932 has
made people more resistant to politi-
cal organizing, more determined to
avoid involvement in any cause. The
mass organizations that galvanized El
Salvador's popular movement in the
1970s made little headway in the west.
The guerrillas have never established
a significant presence there. Peasants
wanted to be left alone. Often, they
collaborated with the army.
But even in the west, the effects
of El Salvador's civil war are being
felt. An already desperate economic
situation has been aggravated by the
influx of migrants from war zones in
the east. There is not enough work on
the sugar and coffee plantations. Co-
operatives established since 1980 un-
der the agrarian reform are going
bankrupt for lack of credit and techni-
cal assistance. Over the last year,
there has been an increase in guerrilla
activity, particularly to the north of
Sonsonate in Santa Ana province. But
the aerial bombardments that have be-
come a daily routine in the east, the
massive army sweeps in search of
guerrilla camps, are still unknown in
the west. And for that, at least, people
are grateful.
The peasants and Indians of Sonso-
nate are becoming part of a "left
flank" with which President Duarte
will have to contend. Disconnected
from the guerrilla movement and sus-
picious of it, they are nonetheless
frustrated by the lack of justice, con-
tinuing repression and the war that en-
croaches more each day. In Sonso-
nate, the overwhelming support for the Christian Democrats in the As-
sembly elections was a vote for peace,
for a national dialogue they say must
include not just the government and
the guerrillas, but also those caught in
between.
Still No Justice
Adrian Esquino, a short, round man
with a fierce pride in preserving his
Indian heritage, is a leading spokes- person for what the U.S. Embassy likes to refer to as El Salvador's
''democratic center.'' He is president
of the National Association of Sal-
vadorean Indians (ANIS), represent-
ing 15,000 members nationwide, and a
member of the executive committee of
El Salvador's largest labor coalition, The Popular Democratic Union
(UPD). A new wing is being added to
the ANJS headquarters in the provin-
cial capital of Sonsonate, with monies
donated by the AFL-CIO, and the new
jeep parked outside is on loan from
the American Institute for Free Labor
Development (AIFLD). Despite his "centrist" credentials,
Adrian Esquino has become a thorn in
the side of the government his mem-
bers helped to elect. (Not coinciden-
tally, he has also fallen out of favor
with AIFLD; the jeep was repossessed a few days later.) "We worked
tirelessly to elect Napoleon Duarte,''
he says. "We risked our lives to do it,
and when he was elected [in May
19841, people thought everything
would change. But we are still waiting
for justice.''
Justice, for the Indians of Sonso-
nate, is defined as punishment of
those responsible for the 1983 mas-
sacre at Las Hojas, a small farming
cooperative run by ANIS. At day- break on February 22, three
truckloads of soldiers from the Sonso-
nate garrison arrived in Las Hojas,
accompanied by 10 masked men-
members of the local civil defense
patrol-who proceeded to identify people whose names were on a list of
alleged "subversives." By the end of
the day, 74 bodies were scattered at
various sites around Las Hojas, most of them shot in the head, others
hacked to pieces with machetes.
"Maybe we were too successful,
too independent," says FermIn Guar-
dado, whose 20-year-old son was
among the dead. ANIS had purchased
the abandoned hacienda in 1978. "The
neighboring landowners used to graze
their cattle on that land. Everytime we
put up fences, they tore them down.
They wanted to build a road through
the land and we refused. But we never
expected trouble. We'd always made
it a point to be on good terms with the
army."
The day of the massacre, a delega-
tion from ANIS went to see the com-
mander of the local garrison, Colonel
Elmer Gonzalez Araujo, with no re-
sult. They travelled to San Salvador to
meet with then President Magana,
who promised an immediate investi-
gation, but no report was ever made
public. Campaigning for the presi-
dency a year later, Napoleon Duarte
pledged he would make the Las Hojas
case a priority. Several months after
taking office, Duarte created a special
commission to investigate the mas-
sacre and four other "symbolic"
cases that he said would serve as a lit-
mus test of his presidency.
Reshuffling the Deck
To date, three members of the civil
defense patrol have been detained in
the Las Hojas case. No charges or dis-
ciplinary actions have been brought
against the officers who led the unit or
the soldiers who carried out the execu-
tions. But, as always in El Salvador,
the deck has been reshuffled. Colonel
Gonzalez Araujo was transferred to
the Ministry of Defense; the captain
who led the unit was given a desk job
in charge of intelligence; and 10 U.S.
advisers stationed in Sonsonate were
quietly withdrawn.
Today, there is little hope in Las
Hojas that justice will be served. The
widows sitting on the porch of a
wooden shack exude a bitterness that
is exceedingly rare in El Salvador,
even among those who have experi-
enced unspeakable suffering. An el-
derly woman, whose 75-year-old hus-
band was killed in the massacre, an-
to REPORT ON THE AMERICAS
those who have gone to the polls three
times in the last three years.
Travelling recently to El Salvador's
western provinces with a delegation
organized by the Commission on
U.S.-Central American Relations
reinforced this sense that a deep frus-
tration is building. The country is in
transition, and how power will be re-
distributed is still to be determined.
Resistant to Political Organizing
Sonsonate province, home of the
majestic Izalco volcano, was once the
heart of El Salvador's indigenous
Lenca and Pipil culture. It was also
the epicenter of the peasant uprising
that shook El Salvador in 1932 and
ended in the massacre of 30,000
people. Today, the older generation
still speaks Ndhuatl as well as
Spanish, and women in the outlying
villages wear the long, wrap-around
skirts of cloth hand-woven in Pan-
chimalco. But the legacy of 1932 has
made people more resistant to politi-
cal organizing, more determined to
avoid involvement in any cause. The
mass organizations that galvanized El
Salvador's popular movement in the
1970s made little headway in the west.
The guerrillas have never established
a significant presence there. Peasants
wanted to be left alone. Often, they
collaborated with the army.
But even in the west, the effects
of El Salvador's civil war are being
felt. An already desperate economic
situation has been aggravated by the
influx of migrants from war zones in
the east. There is not enough work on
the sugar and coffee plantations. Co-
operatives established since 1980 un-
der the agrarian reform are going
bankrupt for lack of credit and techni-
cal assistance. Over the last year,
there has been an increase in guerrilla
activity, particularly to the north of
Sonsonate in Santa Ana province. But
the aerial bombardments that have be-
come a daily routine in the east, the
massive army sweeps in search of
guerrilla camps, are still unknown in
the west. And for that, at least, people
are grateful.
The peasants and Indians of Sonso-
nate are becoming part of a "left
flank" with which President Duarte
will have to contend. Disconnected
from the guerrilla movement and sus-
picious of it, they are nonetheless
frustrated by the lack of justice, con-
tinuing repression and the war that en-
croaches more each day. In Sonso-
nate, the overwhelming support for
the Christian Democrats in the As-
sembly elections was a vote for peace,
for a national dialogue they say must
include not just the government and
the guerrillas, but also those caught in
between.
Still No Justice
Adrian Esquino, a short, round man
with a fierce pride in preserving his
Indian heritage, is a leading spokes-
person for what the U.S. Embassy
likes to refer to as El Salvador's
"democratic center." He is president
of the National Association of Sal-
vadorean Indians (ANIS), represent-
ing 15,000 members nationwide, and a
member of the executive committee of
El Salvador's largest labor coalition,
The Popular Democratic Union
(UPD). A new wing is being added to
the ANIS headquarters in the provin-
cial capital of Sonsonate, with monies
donated by the AFL-CIO, and the new
jeep parked outside is on loan from
the American Institute for Free Labor
Development (AIFLD).
Despite his "centrist" credentials,
Adrian Esquino has become a thorn in
the side of the government his mem-
bers helped to elect. (Not coinciden-
tally, he has also fallen out of favor
with AIFLD; the jeep was repossessed
a few days later.) "We worked
tirelessly to elect Napole6n Duarte,"
he says. "We risked our lives to do it,
and when he was elected [in May
1984], people thought everything
would change. But we are still waiting
for justice."
Justice, for the Indians of Sonso-
nate, is defined as punishment of
those responsible for the 1983 mas-
sacre at Las Hojas, a small farming
cooperative run by ANIS. At day-
break on February 22, three
truckloads of soldiers from the Sonso-
nate garrison arrived in Las Hojas,
accompanied by 10 masked men-
members of the local civil defense
patrol-who proceeded to identify
people whose names were on a list of
alleged "subversives." By the end of
the day, 74 bodies were scattered at
various sites around Las Hojas, most
of them shot in the head, others
hacked to pieces with machetes.
"Maybe we were too successful,
too independent," says Fermin Guar-
dado, whose 20-year-old son was
among the dead. ANIS had purchased
the abandoned hacienda in 1978. "The
neighboring landowners used to graze
their cattle on that land. Everytime we
put up fences, they tore them down.
They wanted to build a road through
the land and we refused. But we never
expected trouble. We'd always made
it a point to be on good terms with the
army."
The day of the massacre, a delega-
tion from ANIS went to see the com-
mander of the local garrison, Colonel
Elmer Gonzalez Araujo, with no re-
sult. They travelled to San Salvador to
meet with then President Magafia,
who promised an immediate investi-
gation, but no report was ever made
public. Campaigning for the presi-
dency a year later, Napole6n Duarte
pledged he would make the Las Hojas
case a priority. Several months after
taking office, Duarte created a special
commission to investigate the mas-
sacre and four other "symbolic"
cases that he said would serve as a lit-
mus test of his presidency.
Reshuffling the Deck
To date, three members of the civil
defense patrol have been detained in
the Las Hojas case. No charges or dis-
ciplinary actions have been brought
against the officers who led the unit or
the soldiers who carried out the execu-
tions. But, as always in El Salvador,
the deck has been reshuffled. Colonel
Gonzalez Araujo was transferred to
the Ministry of Defense; the captain
who led the unit was given a desk job
in charge of intelligence; and 10 U.S.
advisers stationed in Sonsonate were
quietly withdrawn.
Today, there is little hope in Las
Hojas that justice will be served. The
widows sitting on the porch of a
wooden shack exude a bitterness that
is exceedingly rare in El Salvador,
even among those who have experi-
enced unspeakable suffering. An el-
derly woman, whose 75-year-old hus-
band was killed in the massacre, an-
REPORT ON THE AMERICAS 10swers our questions in monosyllables.
Esquino tries to prod her into talk-
ing. hut she says she's told the story
100 times-to reporters, to con-
gressmen and senators, and visiting
delegations like our own. "It doesn't
do any good. There's still no justice,
no help for the widows and orphans."
"You must tell it a hundred times a
day if need be," says Esquino, "and
never lose hope."
Another woman begins: "They
killed my two sons and my husband
died of sadness. It was an act of hate;
seven people in my family died for no
reason, just hate. President Magana
promised 100,000 co/ones (about
$25,000) for the families, but we've never seen a penny of it. All the
money goes for weapons." A younger woman tells us that two
months ago, her two sons were picked
up on their way home from school and
taken to the army garrison for train- ing. "My husband is dead, Now
they've taken my sons. Who will
work the land now? And who will
protect us? The civil patrols come
every night now; they yell threats and throw stones and steal our wood. They know we are women left
alone."
Las Hojas: No hope for justice
The stories of continual harassment
do not end at Las Hojas. We stop at
another village where the men gather
at the roadside to tell us of last week's
events. The community was meeting
to discuss the water problem: fetching
water now means walking three
kilometers each way, up and down
steep, dusty paths. But the meeting was broken up by soldiers, who said
they'd been informed that "subver-
sives" were stirring up trouble.
Back in the city of Sonsonate, two
members of ANtS are waiting for Es-
quino outside his office. Soldiers had
come to their village that morning and
taken two young men away. Could
Adrian please call around to the garri-
sons to see what has become of them?
The next day, at our U.S. Embassy
briefing, they gently scold us for visit-
ing Las Hojas, for journeying into
what they consider El Salvador's past.
"It's terrible what happened-but that
was two years ago!" they say. "Americans have to stop dwelling on
the sins of this country's past. This is
Day One in El Salvador, a new begin-
ning."
MAY/JUNE 1985 II
GUATEMALA .
swers our questions in monosyllables.
Esquino tries to prod her into talk-
ing, but she says she's told the story
100 times-to reporters, to con-
gressmen and senators, and visiting
delegations like our own. "It doesn't
do any good. There's still no justice,
no help for the widows and orphans."
"You must tell it a hundred times a
day if need be," says Esquino, "and
never lose hope."
Another woman begins: "They
killed my two sons and my husband
died of sadness. It was an act of hate;
seven people in my family died for no
reason, just hate. President Magafia
promised 100,000 colones (about
$25,000) for the families, but we've
never seen a penny of it. All the
money goes for weapons."
A younger woman tells us that two
months ago, her two sons were picked
up on their way home from school and
taken to the army garrison for train-
ing. "My husband is dead. Now
they've taken my sons. Who will
work the land now? And who will
protect us? The civil patrols come
every night now; they yell threats and
throw stones and steal our wood.
They know we are women left
alone."
Las Hojas: No hope for justice
The stories of continual harassment
do not end at Las Hojas. We stop at
another village where the men gather
at the roadside to tell us of last week's
events. The community was meeting
to discuss the water problem: fetching
water now means walking three
kilometers each way, up and down
steep, dusty paths. But the meeting
was broken up by soldiers, who said
they'd been informed that "subver-
sives" were stirring up trouble.
Back in the city of Sonsonate, two
members of ANIS are waiting for Es-
quino outside his office. Soldiers had
come to their village that morning and
taken two young men away. Could
Adrian please call around to the garri-
sons to see what has become of them?
The next day, at our U.S. Embassy
briefing, they gently scold us for visit-
ing Las Hojas, for journeying into
what they consider El Salvador's past.
"It's terrible what happened--but that
was two years ago!" they say.
"Americans have to stop dwelling on
the sins of this country's past. This is
Day One in El Salvador, a new begin-
ning."

Tags: El Salvador, civil war, Jose Napoleon Duarte, justice, Politics


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