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- try. 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 Results 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 forces. 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. women]." 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 front. 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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