Leo Cabral: Our Strategic Time is Short

September 25, 2007

Commander Leo Cabral is a member of the Political Cabral is a member of the Political Commission of the General Command of the FMLN. He was Commission of the General Command of the FMLN. He was interviewed in January. interviewed in Janua,y.

The FMLN has talked before about a general uprising. What The FMLN has talked before about a general uprising. What is different today? is different today?
This insurrectionThis insurrection isn't conceived of as a general uprising isn't conceived of as a general uprising inin which the masses will rise up throughout the country at which the masses will rise up throughout the country at thethe same time. We have a more irregular, much less classic same time. We have a more irregular, much less classic concept. concept.
AnyoneAnyone who tries to measure the insurrectional process who tries to measure the insurrectional process withwith the yardstick of 1980 will find no direct, mechanical the yardstick of 1980 will find no direct, mechanical relation. They arerelation. They are two different moments. The mass move- two different moments. The mass movementment is neither stronger nor weaker than before but differ- is neither stronger nor weaker than before but different. There is a more advanced political crisis, a deeper ent. There is a more advanced political crisis, a deeper economic crisis, a process of politicization that has been economic crisis, a process of politicization that has been going on now for eight years, an attrition of the regime, and going on now for eight years, an attrition of the regime, and a failurea failure of U.S. policy. It's a new situation, but it draws on of U.S. policy. It's a new situation, but it draws on all our past experience. all our past experience.
InIn 1980, for example, our conception of insurrection 1980, for example, our conception of insurrection includedincluded the general strike as a determining factor. Today the general strike as a determining factor. Today thisthis is not necessarily so. Before, in order to shut off the is not necessarily so. Before, in order to shut off the country'scountry's electricity you needed the electrical workers electricity you needed the electrical workers union. Today we don't need it; the masses can carry out union. Today we don't need it; the masses can carry out sabotage. Before,sabotage. Before, to shut down transportation we needed the to shut down transportation we needed the union of transport workers.(union of transport workers. Now we call a paro.)Now we call aparo.TodayToday you you have to see the participation of workers as more flexible and have to see the participation of workers as more flexible and diverse. diverse.
The economic crisis and war have hit these sectors hard. The economic crisis and war have hit these sectors hard. TheThe factory proletariat has been sharply reduced by the factory proletariat has been sharply reduced by the economiceconomic crisis, massive layoffs, assassination, and the crisis, massive layoffs, assassination, and the dissolutiondissolution of their organizations. The unemployed far of their organizations. The unemployed far outnumber those in unions.. ..With such a composition of outnumber those in unions....With such a composition of the working class one cannot speak of the classical concep- the working class one cannot speak of the classical conception of the general strike. What are they going to halt? tion of the general strike. What are they going to halt? EverythingEverything is stopped already! is stopped already!
In 1980In 1980 and 1981 mass insurrection was at the center of and 1981 mass insurrection was at the center of our strategy, without an army. Well, it was an excellent our strategy, without an army. Well, it was an excellent proposition, but we couldn'tproposition, but we couldn't tip the balance of forces to our tip the balance of forces to our favor.favor. We lacked the military component. During the fol- We lacked the military component. During the followinglowing years, through 1986, we developed an army, not years, through 1986, we developed an army, not very large, yet powerful in relation to the state army. But the very large, yet powerful in relation to the state army. But the insurrectionalinsurrectional spirit of the masses failed to develop. And we spirit of the masses failed to develop. And we discovered that the popular army was also not sufficient to discovered that the popular army was also not sufficient to changechange the correlation of forces. Now our strategy has the correlation of forces. Now our strategy has matured,matured, and brought us to the point where we can see that, and brought us to the point where we can see that, yes, we must link insurrection and war, base them in the yes, we must link insurrection and war, base them in the same historicalsame historical moment. Not a date but a conjuncture. Fuse moment. Not a date but a conjuncture. Fuse them into a single process toward a real confrontation. them into a single process toward a real confrontation.

Concretely, what are the characteristics of this insurrection- Concretely, what are the characteristics of this insurrectionary phase of the war? ary phase of the war?
InsurrectionInsurrection in thein the countryside has one set of character- countryside has one set of characteristics, urban insurrection another. [Urban insurrection] istics, urban insurrection another. [Urban insurrection] combinescombines guerrilla siege-not a classic encirclement-with guerrilla siege--not a classic encirclement-with incursions. [This is] not in the Maoist sense of moving to incursions. [This is] not in the Maoist sense of moving to encircleencircle the cities from the countryside. We are forming a the cities from the countryside. We are forming a guerrillaguerrilla belt all around the cities-but at the same time belt all around the cities-but at the same time we're already inside the suburbs and the cities themselves. we're already inside the suburbs and the cities themselves.
TheThe Armed Forces are still using a counterinsurgency Armed Forces are still using a counterinsurgency strategy whichstrategy which tries to separate the guerrilla vanguard from tries to separate the guerrilla vanguard from thethe masses. But since we're already in an insurrectionary masses. But since we're already in an insurrectionary period,period, this is no longer feasible. The Armed Forces don't this is no longer feasible. The Armed Forces don't have a military strategy to respond to uprisings. In the North have a military strategy to respond to uprisings. In the North AmericanAmerican military manuals they talk about it very sche- military manuals they talk about it very schematically:matically: what are the phases of an insurrection. And they what are the phases of an insurrection. And they saysay by the final stage, when the people are already in revolt, by the final stage, when the people are already in revolt, there'sthere's not much you can do, unless you adopt a form of not much you can do, unless you adopt a form of combat in the cities that basically means a massacre and the combat in the cities that basically means a massacre and the destructiondestruction of the city. Politically, this is impossible. of the city. Politically, this is impossible.
So this new situation completely changes theSo this new situation completely changes the strategy of strategy of the Armed Forces. The elite battalions, for example, are the Armed Forces. The elite battalions, for example, are used toused to fighting in the countryside with air support. In the fighting in the countryside with air support. In the city, thecity, the same units are impossible to deploy, because they same units are impossible to deploy, because they havehave to fight street by street, corner by corner, house by to fight street by street, comer by comer, house by house.house. And the army's conventional weaponry can't be And the army's conventional weaponry can't be deployed.deployed. Tanks, for example, might have a psychological Tanks, for example, might have a psychological effect in the city, but they're not very useful... effect in the city, but they're not very useful...
For the risen masses, not just their tactics but their For the risen masses, not just their tactics but their weaponry is irregular, and has to be irregular. We're talking weaponry is irregular, and has to be irregular. We're talking about a whole range of popular armament: the Moloto about a whole range of popular armament: the Molotov cocktail,cocktail, all kinds of incendiary bombs, and so forth which all kinds of incendiary bombs, and so forth which don'tdon't depend on support from the socialist countries, or depend on support from the socialist countries, or anyoneanyone eke. I mean, gasoline is here already. matches are else. I mean, gasoline is here already, matches are here already. It makes us unstoppable. The army can't here already. It makes us unstoppable. The army can't prohibitprohibit the sale of matches, of gasoline, of hairspray, of the sale of matches, of gasoline, of hairspray, of bottles... bottles...

And the relation of this 10 And the relation of this to what what youyou cull the s/rule gic call the strategic eountcrofti'nsive? counteroffensive?
For us the exact terminology is not the important ques- For us the exact terminology is not the important question.tion. Try to imagine it in a different way. When the armed Try to imagine it in a different way. When the armed struggle began in 1970, the strategic time of the initial struggle began in 1970, the strategic time of the initial guerrilla group wasguerrilla group was long, very long. For it had to accumulate long, very long. For it had to accumulate politicalpolitical strength, masses, military force, economic re- strength, masses, military force, economic resources and arms over many years. And its tactical time was sources and arms over many years. And its tactical time was very short: hit and retreat, hit and pull back. Long strategic very short: hit and retreat, hit and pull back. Long strategic time,time, short tactical time. short tactical time.
For the enemy. which had a big political and military For the enemy, which had a big political and military apparatus, it was the reverse. Short strategic time, for they apparatus, it was the reverse. Short strategic time, for they thought of annihilating us in the short term, and long tactical thought of annihilating us in the short term. and long tactical time, for their units were very heavy. In this confrontation time, for their units were very heavy. In this confrontation thethe advantage was ours, as we had the terrain, the factor of advantage was ours, as we had the terrain, the factor of surprise, of mobility. surprise, of mobility.
Now, the strategic time of the enemy is longer, because Now, the strategic time of the enemy is longer, because the enemy is trying to prolong the war. And their tactical the enemy is trying to prolong the war. And their tactical time has shortened with the irregularization of their tactics, time has shortened with the irregularization of their tactics, the Fcreation of] small units. We have a shorter strategic the [creation of] small units. We have a shorter strategic time because we are going on the offensive, and our tactical time because we are going on the offensive, and our tactical ttme continues to be short because we don't have a large time continues to be short because we don't have a large armyarmy that moves slowly. that moves slowly,

InIn classical classical ternn terms a .rtrategw ounu'roffenszve means a a strategic counteroffensive means a changechange 10 a more regular modality, and to a more regular modality, and you are speaking(von)are speaking of of a change to a more irregular proee.rs. a change to a more irregular process.
That's That's it.it. We are not projecting the penetration of big We are not projecting the penetration of big units into the cities. No. Our insurrectional scheme is the units into the cities. No. Our insurrectional scheme is the guerrilla siege. small mobile units, with the capacity to guerrilla siege, small mobile units, with the capacity to convergecon'.erge at certain times, deliver a blow and disperse. It is at certain times, deliver a blow and disperse. It is aa process of "irregularizing" the war: not huge, organized process of "'irregularizing" the war: not huge, organized andand structured forces in the cities but a group of five on the structured forces in the cities but a group of five on the corner throwing stones, a group of three over there doing corner throwing stones, a group of three over there doing more or less the same thing, five more over there. We have more or less the same thing, five more over there. We have no aviation, no armored cars, so we can be very irregular. no aviation, no armored cars, so we can be very irregular.

But this is in the city. In the countryside you .still have regular But this is in the city. In the countrysideyou still have regular units. units.
Yes, but also we have new militia and clandestine Yes, but also we have new militia and clandestine guerrillas who by day are normal, correct citizens and by guerrillas who by day are normal, correct citizens and by night are an armed force that participates in all different night are an armed force that participates in all different kinds of operations: armed propaganda. sabotage. annihi Ia- kinds of operations: armed propaganda, sabotage, annihilation of enemy forces, and so forth. In the countryside these tion of enemy forces, and so forth. In the countryside these are not permanent, for there is this thing calJed the air force. are not permanent, for there is this thing called the air force. WeWe are developing anti-aircraft technology which will are developing anti-aircraft technology which will bring about, if not the defeat of the air force, at least the bring about, if not the defeat of the air force, at least the neutralization of it as a strategic factor. And that will allow neutralization of it as a strategic factor. And that will allow us to fight during the day. We don't have missiles and we are us to fight during the day. We don't have missiles and we are notnot trying to get them. But with the right tactics we can trying to get them. But with the right tactics we can neutralize the air force with conventional arms. neutralize the air force with conventional arms.

Can von speal about the balance between spontaneity and Can you speak about the balance between spontaneity and planning in the invurrectwn? planning in the insurrection?
The vanguard cannot plan everything. Nor lead every- The vanguard cannot plan everything. Nor lead everything.thing. The role of the vanguard is to point in a particular The role of the vanguard is to point in a particular direction,direction, without necessarily having organic or mechani- without necessarily having organic or mechanical control over everything that happens. The insurrectional cal control over everything that happens. The insurrectional processprocess is so varied. so dispersed. so irregular, that it is is so varied, so dispersed, so irregular, that it is impossibleimpossible to control. to control.
TheThe vanguard must take advantage of the spirit of the vanguard must take advantage of the spirit of the masses,masses, their spontaneity, which at a given moment will their spontaneity, which at a given moment will break through the terror imposed by the enemy and bring break through the terror imposed by the enemy and bring people into the streets. But if there is no one who knows people into the streets. But if there is no one who knows what towhat to do when the first tank arrives the people will run. So do when the first tank arrives the people will run. So the vanguard must provide organic nuclei who know what the vanguard must provide organic nuclei who know what needsneeds to be done at the right moment in order to make to be done at the right moment in order to make something of the masses' spontaneity. something of the masses' spontaneity.
Let me put forth a hypothetical case. There is an upris- Let me put forth a hypothetical case. There is an uprising. Not a generalized one, but outbursts. Depending on a ing. Not a generalized one, but outbursts. Depending on a series of factors, political and military, you don't know if series of factors, political and military, you don't know if the army will take to the streetsthe army will take to the streets or stay in its barracks. If they or stay in its barracks. If they taketake to the streets, there are tactics you must employ. You to the streets, there are tactics you must employ. You must bit the force in the streets. You must destroy their must hit the force in the streets. You must destroy their principalprincipal resources, their tanks, and so forth. If they stay in resources, their tanks, and so forth. If they stay in the barracks you must surround them. Here is another: They the barracks you must surround them. Here is another: They do not stay in the barracks, but establish a perimeter defense do not stay in the barracks, but establish a perimeter defense outside.outside. So they are neither in the barracks nor the streets: So they are neither in the barracks nor tthstreets; it is an intermediate variable. You must plan for this also. it is an intermediate variable. You must plan for this also.
They could decide not to confront the population with They could decide not to confront the population with infantry and tanks hut with artillery and the air force. Or infantry and tanks but with artillery and the air force. Or there could be a coup after the insurrection and they could there could be a coup after the insurrection and they could say, "Great, let us sit down at the table and resolve this by say, "Great, let us sit down at the table and resolve this by other means." other means.
All these hypotheses could happen in El Salvador. The All these hypotheses could happen in El Salvador. The
FMLN is contemplating all these possibilities. And we must FMLN is contemplating all these possibilities. And we must havehave an immediate response for any of them. an immediate response for any of them.

W'iihourfalling into simplistic notions of dates, what can he Withoutfalling into simplistic notions of dates, what can be said saidabout your conception of time and insurrection? about your conception of time and insurrection?
II can tellcan tell you that strategic time cannot be ten years. For you that strategic time cannot be ten years. For the revolution strategic time is six months, a year. a year and the revolution strategic time is six months, a year, a year and a half a half.... ....WhatWhat we are looking for is a particular combination we are looking for is a particular combination ofconditions which will provoke a decision to move to a new ofconditions which will provoke a decision to move to a new situation. What we can see clearly is that time is against the situation. What we can see clearly is that time is against the enemy.

Tags: El Salvador, FMLN, offensive, Leo Cabral


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