The Forces of the Right

September 25, 2007

EL SALVADOR'S CIVIL WAR EMBRACES TWO conflicts: one is the war between those in power and the FMLN-FDR insurgents; the other, a dispute for power between the extreme Right and the U.S.-backed conservative reformers of the center-Right. The March 1984 elections do not set out to solve, or even address, El Salvador's primary problem. They have a different-and lesser-purpose. The contenders are out to resolve the question of who on the right shall hold power, as a preliminary to the common goal of stopping a revolution. For some, this means eliminating Newspaper headline reads, "Vote Stops Violence." every last vestige of rebellion by means of a "dirty war." For others, the siren song of Marxism-Leninism can still be resisted by making adjustments to an obso- lete and unworkable economic system and the war won by "cleaner" methods that at least pay lip-service to humanitarian norms. In practice, the differences be- tween the two are minimal. The character and conduct of El Salvador's active political parties must be understood from this perspec- tive, and in the context of elections imposed by Washington as the supposed path to democracy. Ob- viously, both the war and the lack of real political space allowed by repression and current emergency legislation conspire to reduce the number of "acceptable" political parties to a narrow spectrum that ranges from moderate Right to rabid Right. The elections, then, offer the choice between the extremism of the oligarchy and the reform proposals of the center-Right. Both seek stabil- ity in some form of the existing economic order; neither addresses the fundamental crisis of El Salvador. The voting results of March 28, 1982, produced two leading contenders for power: the Christian Democratic Party (PDC), which registered 40.3% of the valid votes cast, and the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), with 29.3% of the vote. The Party of Na- tional Conciliation (PCN) came in third with 19.0%. The PDC projects the image of a centrist party, and has been endorsed as such by the United States in recent years. Formed in 1960, both its political programs and its ideological stance-combining the social doctrine of the Catholic Church with an emphasis on the indi- vidual-appealed to the interests of the middle class. Nonetheless, the mere act of questioning the injustices of Salvadorean society, its Christian identity and its steadfast opposition role, won the PDC widespread support among the poor. This popularity brought the Christian Democrats the mayoralties of the principal cities and victory at a national level in 1972 in coalition with other parties further to the left. Throughout the 1970s the PDC continued to ally itself with parties and movements to its left, behind demands little different from some of the revolutionary groups. But the party's ascent to power in January 1980, in alliance with the armed forces, signalled its divorce from the Salvadorean Left and provoked a crisis in March of that year; the more progressive wing of the party broke away to form the Popular Social Christian Movement (MPSC), which joined the ranks of the FDR. The PDC's two years in office, during a period of intense upheaval, left both the party and its conserva- tive leader, Jose Napoleon Duarte, severely bruised. REPORT ON THE AMERICAS .,,ms n,-.,-, e... IAnne Nelson Pre-election rally by ARENA, March 1982. The oligarchy and big business blame the PDC and Duarte for reducing the economy to chaos by introduc- ing reforms, above all in the agrarian sector; progressive democrats and the revolutionary opposition hold the PDC accountable for overseeing and justifying the mass killing of thousands of Salvadorean democrats and the systematic violation of basic human rights. Both sides condemn the party for failing to bring peace-one for its failure to exterminate the insurgency, the other for its refusal to open peace talks. Today, the Christian Democrats are again trying to persuade the United States that they are the best vehicle for Washington's policies. In fact, the Reagan Adminis- , tration placed all its bets on the PDC in March 1982, and then faced the serious challenge of coming to terms with victory by an alliance of the PDC's opponents. This does not imply that the PDC's goals are identical to those of the U.S. Administration. The primary dif- ference is that for Reagan the Salvadorean crisis is sim- ply a manifestation of the East-West conflict; for the PDC, the country's problems are the consequence of a half-century of exploitation and dictatorship, and only secondarily a focus of superpower rivalry. For all that, the present-day PDC, under Duarte's rightist leadership and stripped of its progressive wing, is in theory the best bet-domestically and interna- tionally-for carrying out Washington's intentions. The main Christian Democrat leaders have shown that, when it suits them, their anti-communism and thirst for power can put their desire for serious reforms on the back burner-witness their acceptance of a few Cabinet and minor government posts after their electoral defeat in 1982. The PDC opted to stay in a government dom- inated by the very ultra-Right which it blames for El Salvador's endemic ills, despite its inability to exercise any significant influence on that government. In so do- ing, and in not taking up a critical and creative role in opposition, the party may have seriously damaged its credibility within its own constituencies. A RENA WAS BORN OUT OF THE CURRENT crisis in El Salvador, the newest instrument of the oligarchy and big private capital in its dual fight against the FMLN and the U.S./PDC reform package. It is the offspring of a marriage between a political-paramilitary structure headed by Roberto D'Aubuisson, an Army major whose background is in the political intelligence service (ANSESAL), and the organizational leadership of large-scale private enterprise (ANEP). ARENA's forerunner was the Broad Nationalist Front (FAN), a shock force created to resist the mass mobilizations of the first months after the 1979 coup. D'Aubuisson himself acknowledged to the Albu- querque Journal that the FAN was set up as a "civic organization" designed to give political support to the armed forces, enhance their military intelligence gather- ing capacity and curb support for the Left. Its main base of support was ORDEN, a paramilitary body founded in the 1960's to prevent "the infiltration of exotic ideologies" among the Salvadorean peasantry. Declared illegal by the first junta after the 1979 coup, ORDEN nonetheless survived under D'Aubuisson's MARCH/APRIL 1984 19EL SALVADOR 1984 EL SALVADOR 1984 control as the Democratic Nationalist Front (FDN). The FAN's membership included private enterprise associations (coffee growers, cattle ranchers and young executives) as well as the Salvadorean Women's Front and the Salvadorean Nationalist Movement, a militant youth organization. According to the Albuquerque Journal, many ARENA members-including D'Aubuisson himself and his closest associates-see the need for a counter- insurgency war using what they believe are structures and modes of organization parallel to those of the revolutionary Left. Indeed, numerous ARENA members have confirmed their participation in clandes- tine organizations funded by Salvadorean oligarchs in voluntary or enforced exile in Miami-activities that predate the October 1979 coup. The party structure of ARENA has also drawn on the inspiration and advice from the National Liberation Movement (MLN) in Guatemala, an ultra-rightist party Messengers of Peace. The Right suppressed distribution of this poster during the Pope's March 1983 visit. founded in 1953 and the key force in overthrowing the regime of Jacobo Arbenz a year later. The MLN gave ARENA not only its ideological tenents, its colors (red, white and blue) and its emblems (cross and sword), but also direct advice on establishing the first ARENA shock forces and the rudiments of party organization. Such was the skeleton on to which ARENA's founders, entering an electoral campaign sponsored by the United States in 1981, grafted some of the ideological postures and doctrines of the Republican "New Right." Everything about ARENA bespeaks its roots in the oligarchy and in paramilitary activity: its ultra-rightist ideology, which aggressively promotes the doctrine of national security; its most active membership-the big bourgeoisie and conservative military men; and its cam- paign style of the macho caudillo epitomized by D'Aubuisson. There appear to be three reasons why a party of the oligarchy like ARENA should have won 29.3% of the valid votes in 1982: 1. A slick campaign with excellent technical advice and solid financial backing; 2. Its image as the main opposition party, helping it to capitalize on the immense discontent of every kind among voters; 3. An aggressive style which convinced many war- weary voters that only a strong party could promise a swift return to peace. THE THIRD CONTENDER, THE PARTY OF National Conciliation (PCN), was the official party for two decades, led by the ruling military of the day. Ousted by the 1979 coup, it was kept alive by a partly rejuvenated leadership that embarked on a new course more receptive to social change. Resisting the oligarchy's attempts to take over the party or force it into alliance with ARENA was a costly exercise for the PCN: first it lost one of its most astute leaders, Rafael Rodriguez, assassinated at the beginning of the 1982 election campaign; more recently, its right wing broke away to form the Salvadorean Authentic Institutional Party (PAISA). The PCN has shrewdly managed to hold on to some of the local power structures which served it well during its years in government. This has allowed the party to survive, and even to garner an impressive 19% of the vote in 1982, strongest in rural areas. PAISA's defection could mean a lower PCN vote in 1984. However, the election of Jose Francisco Guerrero as presidential can- didate seems designed to offset that danger. "Chachi" Guerrero, an old-time party militant with government experience under previous PCN adminis- trations, depicts himself as a link between the old and new incarnations of the PCN, and portrays the party as the builder of modern El Salvador. Every innovation in the country is claimed as the work of the PCN-true enough, in as much as the party held a monopoly of power for 20 years. Guerrero points to the PCN as ini- tiator of physical and economic infrastructure and social benefits (minimum wage scales; labor legislation, REPORT ON THE AMERICASVoting lines in San Salvador, March 28, 1982. especially as it affects working women; extension of the social security net to cover contributors' families, etc.) The close ties that the PCN forged with the armed forces during its 20 years in office mean that it has a special claim to understand the concerns of the military establishment. The party enjoys the trust of a signifi- cant number of officers. TN ELECTIONS OF MARCH 28, 1982, INSTEAD of strengthening the U.S.-backed reform process begun by the 1979 coup, only undermined it and gave greater legitimacy to the traditional approach of the oligarchy. Although the PDC won a relative majority of votes, it could not rally the absolute majority of deputies required to remain in power. Instead, ARENA-in temporary alliance with the PCN and the Salvadorean Popular Party (PPS), a small party of the industrial bourgeoisie-assembled a majority of votes in the Constituent Assembly, sufficient to form a government. ARENA promptly attempted to drive home its vic- tory by overturning the reforms (especially the agrarian reform) and imposing its candidate, Major D'Aubuisson, as president. But both demands proved unacceptable to the United States, setting off a feverish round of pressures and negotiations. Washington even resorted to an emergency trip by special State Depart- ment envoy General Vernon Walters to veto ARENA's plans. Eventually, ARENA was forced to accede to the formation of a "National Unity" government headed by an "independent" president, Dr. Alvaro Magana, who was selected by the armed forces. In return, D'Aubuisson was awarded the influential presidency of the Constituent Assembly-theoretically the highest organ of state power-and ARENA took control of the key economic portfolios, allowing the party to dictate the pace of reforms. But ARENA remained disgrunt- led. As one of its spokesmen wrote, the elections were won in Spanish only to be lost in English. Though the formation of a National Unity govern- ment at Washington's behest carried the Salvadorean parties over the immediate post-electoral hurdle, its very make-up embodied the critical divisions between the parties and further paralyzed the ability of either the Right or center-Right to carry out its program. The Na- tional Unity government simply provided a new, nar- rower arena for the continuing inter-party strife. ARENA, the PDC and PCN threw themselves into a power-grabbing spree, fighting tooth-and-nail over each government job in a search for party influence rather than political solutions. So intolerable was the situation that a new agreement was hammered out on MARCH/APRIL 1984 21EL SALVADOR 1984 August 3, 1982: the so-called Pact of Apaneca. All par- ties in power, except for the small Democratic Action (AD), agreed on a "basic government platform" aimed fundamentally at pacifying and democratizing the country; to this end, it proposed improved respect for human rights, economic recovery and consolidation of the reforms. In good Salvadorean fashion, the Pact of Apaneca set out to solve problems on paper while changing nothing in reality. It created three commis- sions-Peace, Human Rights and Political. Only the latter would play a significant role as a mechanism for inter-party negotiations, breaking the logjam in draft- ing a constitution and speeding up executive decision- making. The Pact of Apaneca gave a temporary breathing space. But at bottom its only solid agreement was on pacification: that is, to continue the war against the FMLN and fix a timetable for fresh elections. As Demo- cratic Action noted perceptively in explaining its absence from the pact, the new commissions only dupli- cated existing government agencies, undermining gov- ernment authority and responsibilities. The pact did not settle the ARENA-PDC dispute; it simply transferred it to a new forum. In the face of a new FMLN military of- fensive in October 1982 and the accompanying proposal for dialogue, all the fierce divisions within the govern- ment resurfaced. Each new turn of events demonstrated that a government formed by two warring political par- ties was by now terminally diseased. JmeE PERMANENT CRISIS IN THE GOVERN- . ment had its exact counterpart in the armed forces, with mounting conflict between officers more open to reforms and traditionalists who opposed them. That division was superimposed on a second split between officers willing to accept U.S. military leadership and those who insisted on their own conduct of the war. The crisis in the Army was especially evident in 1983, high- lighted by the military's inability to make headway against the FMLN. The first example came in January with the rebellion of Lt. Col. Sigifredo Ochoa in Cabanas, a regional com- mander renowned for his military skills and resentful of U.S. advice and pressures on the armed forces. The uni- ty of the Army suffered badly in the resolution of the in- cident, for Ochoa's insubordination was not punished; indeed, certain of his demands were met. The crisis was revived in April, with a showdown between Air Force commander Col. Juan Rafael Bustillo and Defense Minister Gen. Jose Guillermo Garcia, closely identified with the U.S. position, who was forced to resign. In Oc- tober, matters slid further. After a series of apparent Army successes, a new FMLN offensive showed up the lack of real progress in the war and the splits within the military. The latest and most serious stage in the crisis came at the turn of the year, with the loss and destruc- tion of the vital garrison at El Paraiso in Chalatenango, and U.S. pressure for the armed forces to be purged of death squad connections. At each stage of the crisis ARENA sided with the most conservative officers and the traditional "dirty" methods of warfare, while the PDC supported reformist officers and U.S. strategies. Conflict between the governing parties was most evi- dent in the drafting of a new constitution-the transi- tional government's most important task. The parties repeatedly reached deadlock at critical junctures of the draft, postponing the final version and exasperating the military. The most heated argument centered on the definition of the economic system, particularly in rela- tion to agrarian reform. The key conflict here was over the maximum allowable size of private rural landhold- ings, on which the continuation of the agrarian reform program would hinge. The deadlock brought a rash of threatening symptoms, from the mobilization of peasants of the Salvadorean Communal Union (UCS) in support of the Christian Democrats to a spate of death squad killings and rumors of a military coup. The United States and the armed forces both pressed for compromises to break the stalemate in the Consti- tuent Assembly. This has had two results: first, a con- stitution was approved, representing more a minimal temporary truce than a clearly agreed upon political line. The constitution offered more to ARENA than to the PDC, but was basically unsatisfactory to either side. Second, the presidential elections planned for March -originally conceived as a democratic way out of the Salvadorean crisis-have been relegated to a device for resolving the conflict within the "National Unity" government. They have abandoned any pretense of offering the people alternative programs of government to solve the national crisis. Instead, the elections will merely determine which party (PDC or ARENA) and which option (center-Right or far Right) is to win con- trol of the state apparatus. Many aspects of the preliminaries to the elections make one skeptical of their significance: the hasty inter-party accord on the call for elections; the disregard for the judicial channels which the Constituent Assembly itself created to safeguard the "purity of the electoral process"; the absence of an electoral register or electoral law; and the determination of all parties to conduct voting only for a president and not for deputies and local authorities. The major parties offer conflicting reasons for their insistence that only presidential elections be held. The Christian Democrats argue that suspending legislative elections will keep the door open for the FMLN-FDR to run candidates for mayors and deputies in the elections scheduled for 1985. ARENA, meanwhile, insists that the complex nuances of the constitution mean that cur- rent Assembly members must remain in place, as the on- ly ones equipped to draft secondary legislation. Both arguments seem spurious, a cover for both parties' fear of losing a bloc of seats large enough to force through legislation (in the event of victory) or to block an oppo- nent's initiative (in the event of defeat). Self-interest leads PAISA to the same conclusion, as the only party that has deputies in the Assembly without having run in the 1982 elections. The PCN and AD take the opposing REPORT ON THE AMERICAS 22Anne Nelson Morazan, 1982. view: the PCN would like legislative elections, to recover the seats "stolen" by PAISA, while AD is opti- mistic about the chances of increasing its representation in a general election. THE ELECTIONS OF MARCH 1984 ARE incomplete elections. Nor is it by any means certain that their outcome will be respected, no matter how restricted they may be. Even in the pre-election period, there are signs of the same tactics of intimidation that the parties employed in March 1982, when less was at stake. Paradoxically, neither ARENA nor the PDC could guarantee a viable government in the aftermath of presi- dential elections, even with an absolute majority of votes. A PDC victory would win U.S. backing, but its policies would be blocked or boycotted by the most powerful private interests in the country and by signifi- cant segments of the armed forces. There is no new feature in the Salvadorean political landscape to suggest that the PDC and Duarte could force through their policies with any more success in 1984 than they did in 1980-81. An ARENA victory, which would necessitate a coalition with other, smaller right-wing parties, would run into opposition from the United States, which could neither alter its Salvador policy so drastically overnight nor easily justify-at home or abroad-continued sup- port for a government headed by D'Aubuisson and pledged to stamping out any vestige of socioeconomic reform. Tne OPTIONS ARE SO BLEAK THAT THE Seed for an alternative arises. So once again the PCN comes to the fore, less as a third option than perhaps the only viable option if the United States is to pursue its overriding goal of a military victory over the FMLN-FDR, coupled with some shreds of social reform sufficient to justify continuing U.S. aid. It may be that "Chachi" Guerrero, an old-guard PCN politican, could weld together the rightist coalition that would elude both Duarte and D'Aubuisson, and serve as a bridge between the private sector and the Army. This is perhaps the most savage irony in the political panorama of El Salvador today. After four years of war, with the door to dialogue and negotiation with the in- surgents slammed shut by Washington, there seems no way out but to return to square one and to restore government by the party that precipitated the war in the first place: the PCN. Most political observers agree that the first round of the presidential elections will not pro- duce an absolute majority for any one party. The elec- tions will then proceed to a second round-a run-off between the two candidates with the largest number of votes. Clearly, in this scenario, the PCN could only gain the necessary votes in alliance with another par- ty-either the PDC or ARENA. And that, equally clearly, would fail to resolve the problem of the relative coherence of the options offered by the Right and center-Right, which was the entire purpose of the elec- tions. The vicious circle of these elections would then be complete.

Tags: El Salvador, ARENA, Roberto D'Aubuisson, civil war, Elections

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