El Salvador- U.S. Ups the Ante

September 25, 2007

In the face of a widespread of-
fensive by the Farabundo Marti
Front for National Liberation
(FMLN), the U.S. government has
moved decisively to increase its
military and economic aid to El
Salvador. During the last weeks of
the Carter Administration and the
first of Reagan's new government,
there was a decisive escalation of
U.S. support for the military-
Christian Democratic rulers of that
strife-torn country:
* On January 18, Carter author-
ized an emergency grant of $5
million in combat equipment for
the Salvadorean military and the
resumption of $5 million of "non-
lethal" military aid suspended in
December 1980 following the
murder in El Salvador of four North
American religious women by
government security forces.
* In his first week in office,
President Reagan approved the
granting of $64 million in aid to El
Salvador. Although the aid was
already in the pipeline, it
demonstrated the new administra-
tion's determination to support the
increasingly shaky regime.
* In early February, Secretary
of State Alexander Haig replaced
Robert E. White as Ambassador to
El Salvador with Frederic L.
Chapin, a career diplomat who,
while at the Pentagon, had been
involved in preparing a large
military aid program for that coun-
JanlFeb 1981
At the same time, a Newsweek
report noted that the Defense
Department is strongly pushing to
send an additional 55 U.S. military
advisors to augment the 23 who
are already in El Salvador. Pen-
tagon sources say the total
number desired is 270.
In all, the stage is set for the
gravest U.S. military intervention in
a Latin American country since
the 1965 invasion of the
Dominican Republic.
The Junta in Crisis
The U.S. decision to increase its
military presence in El Salvador
has been unfolding slowly since
early last September. At that time,
a shake-up in the ruling military-
Christian Democratic junta strip-
ped the ineffectual but reform-
minded Col. Adolfo Majano of his
command of the Salvadorean arm-
ed forces. His presence in the jun-
ta was important to the main-
tenance of the government's
reformist facade; with his ouster,
this carefully constructed image
began to erode rapidly.
What stood nakedly in its place
was a situation which many
human rights organizations have
called the worst case of
systematic human rights abuse in
Latin America. A study released by
a group of intellectuals at one of
the country's universities dis-
closed more than 10,000 deaths in
1980 alone. The legal aid office of
the Archdiocese of San Salvador
provided documentary evidence of
security force involvement in more
than 7,000 murders that year.
As repression increased, all
pretense of reform evaporated.
The hallmark of the junta's
"liberal" program, an agrarian
reform, failed to win either
domestic or international support
(see "Agrarian Reform: Hope Turns
to Terror," this issue). Even the
staunchest supporters of the
U.S.-backed reform blanched
when two North Americans work-
ing with it through the American In-
stitute for Free Labor Develop-
ment (AIFLD) were inadvertantly
identified by the U.S. Solicitor
General as "under cover" agents
after they were gunned down by a
rightist death squad.
Re-organization Without
The crisis reached its climax in
late November when six leaders of
the Democratic Revolutionary
Front (FDR) were arrested, tor-
tured and murdered by security
forces at a moment when U.S.
diplomats were attempting to in-
itiate talks with them. Directly on
the heels of this, four U.S.
women-three nuns and a lay
missionary-were raped and
murdered by the junta's security
With the death of the four
religious women, the Carter Ad-
ministration halted its $5 million
military aid program ostensibly un-
til responsibility for the deaths
could be established.
Yet the U.S. "fact-finding" team
sent down shortly after seemed
more concerned with forcing
cosmetic changes on the junta
than in investigating murders. With
U.S. prodding, the junta im-
plemented some changes it had
33update update update update
been contemplating since early
1980. It named Jose Napole6n
Duarte, the demagogic leader of
the shattered Christian Demo-
cratic Party, as president of the
junta, and Col. Abdul Gutierrez as
vice president and commander-in-
chief of the Armed Forces.
The U.S. press tended to hail
the new government as a major
step toward civilian, centrist
politics. But when the smoke had
settled, it became clear that there
was nothing new under the sun.
Col. Jos6 Guillermo Garcia and
Col. Eduardo Vides Casnova--
widely regarded as the principal
architects of the repression-con-
tinued at their posts as minister of
defense and commander of the
National Guard, respectively. Col.
Nicol~s Carranza, Garcia's right-
hand man, received a symbolic
demotion, but was put in charge of
ANTEL, the country's communica-
tions authority. Thus, he was given
control of all telephone, telegraph
and telex communications within
and outside the country.
Col. Majano, on the other hand,
was removed from his post and
ordered to assume a diplomatic
position in Spain. He refused, de-
nounced the junta and urged his
fellow military officers to remove it
"by whatever means necessary."
Thus, the January shake-up
spoke more to the State Depart-
ment's need to give the junta a
liberal face than to any real desire
to moderate the most repressive
aspects of the government. In-
deed, as soon as the changes
were announced, Carter resumed
military aid to the government,
even though his own ambassador
in the country charged that "there
is no reason to believe that the
Government of El Salvador is con-
ducting a serious investigation [of
the deaths of the four U.S.
The Insurrection
Early on the morning of January
11, clandestine "Radio
Liberaci6n" broadcast General
Order No. 1 of the FMLN: "The
time has come to begin the deci-
sive military and insurrectional bat-
tles for the seizure of power by the
people and for the establishment
of the democratic revolutionary
government." The FMLN opened
its long-awaited "general offen-
sive" with attacks on four fronts.
On the eastern front, revolutionary
forces were able to hold key cities
and towns in both Morazsn and
Usulatsn provinces. The FMLN
reported holding the towns of Vic-
toria and Sensuntepeque on the
north-central front, as well as
fighting the air force on the central
But it was on the western front,
an area where the FMLN/FDR or-
ganizing work has generally been
weak, that the insurrectionary
forces reported some of their most
surprising successes. The FMLN
was able to capture key cities in
the provinces of Santa Ana,
AhuachapAn and Sonsonate. It
was here, too, that important
defections in the Salvadorean Ar-
my occurred.
Although the FMLN/FDR offen-
sive proved that the insurrec-
tionary forces were capable of a
coordinated, widespread attack,
troops loyal to the government
were able to thwart their attempt
to call a general strike in San
Salvador by abducting and
murdering many of the strike
leaders. The FMLN has called for
a tactical retreat of its forces, to
prepare for a second stage of the
insurrection, but they continue to
Young members of guerrilla training camp receive instructions.
NACLA Report 34update*update update update
hold large areas in the north and
west of the country.
It is generally conceded that
there is a higher degree of unity
among the diverse guerrilla groups
than at any previous time in their
ten-year history, yet the leaders
themselves have stated that the
first phase of the general offensive
was plagued by problems in com-
munication and coordination be-
tween the five parties. The first
was the premature description of
the offensive itself as the "final of-
fensive," a term that led to confu-
sion within El Salvador and some
"greatly exaggerated" obituaries
for the guerilla in the exterior.
Other problems included poor
planning in the announcement of
the general strike, which gave the
government's repressive forces
advance notice to prepare their
programs of harassment and re-
taliation, as well as a near
paralysis in the communications
systems between the FMLN and
the outside world.
Yet, on the whole, the leader-
ship of the FMLN was not dis-
pleased with the outcome of the
December-January phase of the
offensive. Significant military ad-
vances were made, most notably,
the coordination of military forces
in the countryside. Squads from
various groups that had never
worked together before completed
successful missions, and the
morale of the government forces
was found to be low. The govern-
ment found it necessary to embark
on a massive propaganda and
public relations campaign, setting
up photo sessions for troops doling
out emergency foodstuffs and at-
tacking piles of war debris with
regulation bulldozers. The much-
loathed National Guard suddenly
disappeared off the streets-or at
least swapped uniforms with
members of other, less offensive,
branches of the military. In the
meantime the door-to-door
machine-gun retributions against
the civilian population increased.
One night in January more that 90
people were killed in the township
of Santa Ana, 25 of them women
and a considerable number of
them doctors, nurses, and other
health-care professionals.
Santa Claus in Khaki
As the military-Christian
Democratic junta scrambled to re-
main in power, it turned to a willing
U.S. government for support. Re-
garding U.S. military assistance to
El Salvador, junta president Duarte
coyly noted, "If Santa Claus
wishes to give us something, of
course we will not say no." The
junta's Christmas bag was a big
one: Carter's $5 million in combat
equipment for the Salvadoreans
included M-16 rifles and ammuni-
tion, grenade launchers and four
Huey helicopters.
More serious still was the in-
creasing number of U.S. military
advisors which first Carter and
then Reagan committed to the Sal-
vadorean government. According
to Guillermo Ungo, president of
the FDR, with 68 U.S. military ad-
visors in the country, 10% of the
officers of the Salvadorean Army
are North Americans.
There is every indication that
the U.S. will not only support the
junta in El Salvador, but also
escalate its level of involvement.
Just when needed, "secret" docu-
ments magically appeared ("cap-
tured from the insurgents by
Salvadorean security forces" and
"considered authentic by United
States intelligence agencies")
JanlFeb 1981
which claim that the FMLN is be-
ing equipped by the Soviet Union,
Vietnam, Ethiopia, Bulgaria,
Czechoslovakia, Hungary, East
Germany and Cuba. Patently ab-
surd stories of a mysterious
Nicaraguan invasionary force
landing in El Salvador are repeated
verbatim by the State Department
in order to apply pressure on the
Nicaraguan government and to
create a climate of opinion which
will justify U.S.-supported interven-
tion in the region. (According to
former Ambassador White and
Duarte, they knew the invaders
came from Nicaragua because
the wood of their boats was not
found in El Salvador.)
The Prospects
In all, President Reagan and
Secretary of State Haig seem
eager to apply their "get-tough-
with-the-Soviets" policy in Central
America. Rumors circulate in
Washington of an indirect in-
tervention into El Salvador by an
OAS "peace-keeping" force, while
El Salvador's conservative neigh-
bors amass their troops along the
Salvadorean border. Venezuela
and Costa Rica appear to favor
OAS involvement; Guatemala and
Honduras are poised to strike in
the event of a successful
FMLN/FDR offensive.
Whether El Salvador becomes
"another Vietnam" depends fun-
damentally on the strength of the
FMLN and the FDR and on the
breadth of their internal and inter-
national support. But whatever the
final results, it is clear that the U.S.
government has already written
the first chapters of a new Pen-
tagon Papers. Will a Tonkin Gulf in-
cident be far behind?

Tags: El Salvador, military junta, US aid, FMLN offensive

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