September 25, 2007

FMLN commander Ana Guadalupe Martinez, of the People's Revolution- ary Army (ERP), was interviewed in Panama on June 27, eight days after an FMLN commando unit killed four U.S. Marines relaxing over drinks in the Zona Rosa, a strip of nightclubs and restaurants in one of the most luxurious neighborhoods in the capi- tal. Nine others were killed in the spray of gunfire, although the FMLN claims that "armed elements dressed as civilians" in the restaurant were responsible for their deaths. What fol- lows are excerpts of an extensive in- erview conducted by Epigmenio Ibarra, a Central America correspondent for NOTIMEX, the Mexican state news agency. Q: How do you react to the govern- ment's description of the Zona Rosa killings as a sign of desperation, a ter- rorist act? A: Of course, it's part of their psy- chological warfare to try to stand real- ity on its head. For example, the army has been saying that the movement of the FMLN into the western prov- inces-which demonstrates the or- ganizational advances of the war on a national level-proves that we've failed in the east. As if a shift in ter- rain were enough to ensure success. It's not a very logical mentality. Then there is the issue of our return to the cities. They say it's because we're unable to win in the mountains, so we've turned to "terrorist acts" in the cities. In fact, they have not been able to implement their plans to con- trol the cities, and they want to mask that failure by calling Zona Rosa a ter- rorist operation. [Deputy Minister of Public Security] L6pez Nuila should be ashamed of the fact that the FMLN was able to carry out an action that should have been impossible, under his very nose, in the most luxurious and most protected zone in the coun- try. In the last year and a half, they have lived a very tranquil life, waging war during the week and then going out dancing on weekends, to nightclubs-- able to forget the situation our country is living and refresh themselves to begin anew on Monday. That situa- tion is coming to an end: they are not going to move around with impunity anymore. They will be targets of the FMLN wherever they are, just as we are targets of the army, the [death] squads and the security forces wher- ever we are. Q: What impact do you think these ac- tions will have on the dialogue pro- cess begun at La Palma? A: We do not accept the most recent thesis being used by the North Ameri- can administration, the press and the High Command, that these types of actions endanger the dialogue because the FMLN is not interested in making progress toward humanizing the war. What do they mean by humanizing the war? For them, humanization of the war means a series of unilateral measures on the part of the FMLN, such as an end to economic sabotage, an end to alleged terrorist acts in their own rearguard, a stop to the destruc- tion of buildings such as city halls. They want to reduce the war to a di- rect military confrontation between their army and ours, in total isolation, so that it becomes a test of one side's resources against the other's. In other words, what they're trying to do, by delegitimating our recent ac- tions, is to create more favorable con- ditions for their own military, political and economic plans. Q: Actions such as the one in the Zona Rosa could lead to a more direct con- frontation with the United States. President Reagan has already an- nounced an increase in aid. A: Well, we believe that Reagan's in- stant reaction showed how much con- fusion the action provoked. Because he says that he's going to speed up the delivery of economic and military aid already approved by the Congress. But do they really believe that filling up the warehouses in El Salvador will increase the capacity of the army? It's really more of a propaganda move than anything else, because the army has never suffered defeats for lack of ammunition; no troops have surrendered because they lacked guns. The army has always had the material means to fight-in abundance. So Reagan's latest move means only a shifting of supplies from U.S. ware- houses to Salvadorean warehouses. As for the number of advisers, we have said that the more U.S. advisers there are in El Salvador, the more likely they are to be reached by our guns. Unless they come and shut themselves in a house, or just go from home to work and back, or unless they live and work in the same place. But no, as human beings they will have to move around, they will have to try to live a supposedly normal life in the midst of a war. And that will make it possible for our forces to find them. Q: There's a sense of optimism these days within the army. They even say that within three years, you will be de- feated or at least dramatically weakened. A: Look, the same criteria that were used in the past to demonstrate the FMLN's strength are now being used to demonstrate its weakness. We be- lieve this is an incorrect analysis. Why? First, because the FMLN has changed tactics and therefore the ele- ments that were used to judge the ef- fectiveness and success of one set of tactics are no longer useful. In the past, the FMLN developed the ability to concentrate its forces and with that capacity, we were able to hit and even annihilate important army positions, take prisoners, capture weapons. These were useful parame- ters 'with which to measure the previ- ous tactic. Right now, the tactic is dis- persion, the deployment of smaller units throughout the national territory. And the main objective of these smal- ler units is not exactly to take prison- REPORT ON THE AMERICAS 4ers, or to recover guns, or to defeat large army units. Rather, it's precisely to wear out the army's human re- sources as they move in any area of the country, and this means, well, to inflict casualties, to kill and wound them, to make it difficult for them to move around. Of course, we do not expect optimal results right away; the new tactic has to develop. So what was previously used to de- fine success isn't useful now. Why? Because right now, with smaller units-and they can range in size from two compafieros to a platoon of 25 or a column of 100-we can't expect to force an entire army batallion or com- pany to surrender. We're not talking about a big operation every six months, we're talking about daily ac- tions with no spectacular results. Why? Because today we produce one death, tomorrow two wounded and the day after maybe there's a confron- tation with no casualties at all. But if we add up the daily casualties, we get militants and everyone who partici- pates with the FMLN understand that the prolongation of the conflict is an integral part of our response to the counterinsurgency policy of the army and the United States. So these three elements--the re- thinking, the reaccommodation, the change in mentality and the material and tactical adjustments-have al- lowed us to gradually respond to the army. In the beginning, it wasn't easy, because the combatant's mental- ity is linked to the [large-unit tactics] and, like it or not, this creates the mentality of a regular army. And the change in mentality of the guerrilla unit, which has to learn to rely on it- self, to act as both political cadre and combatant at the same time, to survive in isolation-all this has to be a gradual process. And it's in this period that the army cries victory, saying that the FMLN is defeated, that it can't re- spond to the technological, human and material development of the army. Why? In the first place, it would force them to give up the technology they've acquired. Secondly, they would need capable and motivated officers to lead all these smaller units. And the third and most important element is the FMLN's ability to reconcentrate its forces, which would make the army's small units vulnerable. Be- cause even though we have dispersed our forces, that doesn't mean we've lost the ability to reconcentrate them. Whenever the army has sent its small units deep into our territory, it's suffered defeats. So they have to send a whole batallion in, because if they come in with just a platoon or a com- pany, the FMLN immediately re- groups, and a guerrilla squad becomes a guerrilla column that can easily wipe out or surround a smaller unit. Also, as we wear the army down, they'll have problems replacing their losses or expanding their ranks to cover the national territory. And this will force them to increase their re- FMLN in Morazan: "the prolongation of the conflict is an integral part of our response to counterinsurgency." a number that's as high or even higher than the results of our previous [large- unit] tactic. Q: How do you evaluate the coun- terinsurgency strategy, the new men- tality within the army, since the end of 1983? How has it affected you? A: First, it meant the need for a total rethinking of the tactics the FMLN had been developing. Second, once all the basic elements of our response were in place, it meant changes in the thinking of the commanders, the com- batants and all the militants. A third important element was making our Q: So is the army fighting you -as if you were still concentrating .your forces? A: At this moment, the army hasn't found, or rather they haven't de- veloped (because we haven't let them), a response to our small-unit tactics. The army wants to start using smaller units themselves, so that in- stead of two batallions they would have ten units dispersed throughout the terrain, making the mobility of our smaller units more difficult. But they still lack the capacity to adopt this guerrilla warfare in response to our al- ready developed tactics. cruitment efforts that now center on the poorest sectors and the peasants. They'll have to become more.'indis- criminate. They'll have to do what they tried once before: forced recruit- ment, or rather a legal draft affecting all sectors of the population, which immediately sparked a negative reac- tion from the middle sectors, who even began to search for ways to get their children out of the country. In other words, this would open up a whole new contradiction with sectors that up to now have not been directly affected by the war. With the decision of the U.S. gov- ernment to give unconditional aid, we JULY/AUGUST 1985 5know that if they lose one gun today, they'll be given 400 tomorrow; if they lose one airplane, tomorrow they'll get two. But if they lose a pilot, then they'll have to train a new one. It's no longer the same audacity, no longer the same concept. We believe that with this new tactic we are striking pre- cisely at their Achilles' heel, which is the long-term impossibility of sup- porting a war without having to touch other sectors which are going to im- mediately reject the notion of becom- ing cannon fodder, as the popular sec- tors have become. So that is the basic element for us to develop. Q: What role does the army's modem technology have in this new type of warfare? A: Well, the technology that the North Americans provided to the army was aimed at countering our tactic of con- centration of forces. As we've varied our strategy, all that technology-the air war, the helicopter-borne troops, the spy planes--has become relatively useless against smaller units. It's more difficult to use infra-reds to lo- cate our small units and the C-47s are only effective against medium-sized or large concentrations. So that whole apparatus is now being aimed at terrorizing the civilian population. The most recent case is near the Honduran border in Morazdn, in the area of Nahuaterique and Sabanetas, where the army is using C- 47s, A-37s, helicopter transports, those famous "baby" Hughes 500s that just arrived. Their objective is to depopulate the area, to make it easier for the Honduran army to cross the border if necessary and support the Salvadorean army; and to prevent the people that live there from giving sup- port to the FMLN. It's the old theory of "draining the sea" by every means possible, including terror. Q: You've said that the military vic- tories resulting from the large-unit tactics boosted the morale of the mas- ses and gave them confidence. This new tactic gives the impression that you are defeated, a feeling that is rein- forced by the army's psychological operations. A: Look, you also have to consider the development of the mass move- ment. At one point, the presence of the FMLN, its actions and its succes- ses were a vital symbol of hope for many sectors that had been terribly hard-hit by the repression. That was in 1981 and 1982, toward the end of the period of terror, genocide and death- squad activities against the organized, urban movement. But this situation has not remained static. Today, while the masses are still under pressure from the intelligence apparatus, from this and that, they have had to rear- ticulate their organizations. They've had to come out and voice their de- mands for basic needs and even de- mand punishment of those responsible for so many deaths and assassinations. There is one thing that we cannot accept and that is the notion that the FMLN is the cause of the resurgence of the mass movement. The move- ment has re-emerged precisely be- cause of the popular masses' own need to struggle for survival. It is not the FMLN that creates the crisis or eases the crisis, that causes the mass movement to expand or contract. Rather, it's the reality of the country itself, the root causes of instability, of crisis, of repression that make the movement develop. Q: Many people interpret what is hap- pening in El Salvador as a democratic opening. If this is true, will the de- velopment of the popular movement make the armed struggle no longer valid? A: We've always said that the appar- ent democratic opening is a require- ment of the counterinsurgency project itself, and not a genuine desire to see an end to repression. First they tried the route of indiscriminate repression, and our people refused to surrender. The result was more than 50,000 dead in that period. Of course, they have not ruled out the possibility of going back to that type of project, but the negative results in El Salvador-and a revision of the methods developed in Vietnam-have made them take a dif- ferent tack. What are the main elements of this new project? First of all, they say they want to win the hearts and minds of the people. What does that mean? Well, to develop a series of dem- agogic projects, both economic and political, to make people think that the situation has changed and that armed struggle is no longer justified. From there, to try to separate the people from the FMLN and give a cover to their military plan which is to annihi- late the FMLN. In other words, it is a very complex plan, not a simple one. They're fighting the war on all levels-political, economic, military and international, with the United States acting as the unpaid ambas- sador of the Salvadorean government. Q: You can't deny, then, that the army has advanced and become more professional? A: To deny the development of the army is to deny our own development. In other words, the army's need to re- spond to the development of our forces is precisely what has forced them and, above all, the North Ameri- cans, to revise their previous tactics. What has this meant? Well, they've realized that the repressive, anti-popu- lar and simplistic schemes don't work and they've had to modify their whole way of thinking. And this has created an image of change and profes- sionalism that doesn't really exist in the heart of the armed forces. What does exist is a readjustment, a reac- commodation in order to better con- front the FMLN. This is the global counterinsurgency plan that the North Americans have designed for El Sal- vador. When two armies confront each other, to deny the development of one is to say, well, we've already won the war. And the war in El Salvador isn't won yet. That's why we can't under- stand the army's logic in saying that the FMLN is falling apart, because then they're denying their own de- velopment. But that does not mean that the army is winning the war. We believe that each time they have to respond to our tactics, it is one more defensive step to avoid being defeated by the FMLN.

Tags: El Salvador, FMLN, Zona Rosa, military strategy, Interview

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