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El Salvador: War Ending But Violence Continues

El Salvador: War Ending But Violence Continues image El Salvador: War Ending But Violence Continues image El Salvador: War Ending But Violence Continues image
Parent Issue
Month
December
Year
1991
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Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
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Agenda Publications
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How I see El Salvador right now (other than it has been raining very hard for some hours as it does every night): The second half of 1991 is marking a number of critical points in Salvadoran history . On July 26, the United Nations Observer Mission in El Salvador (ONUSAL) arrived to oversee and investígate human rights abuse complaints made in the ongoing resolution of the civil war. On Sept. 27, extraordinary peace accords were signed by the rebels (FMLN) and the govemment (written up well in that day's New York Times). And for the first time in history, on September 29, ahigh-ranking officer was convicted of ahuman rights abuse against a civilian. But simultaneously, coffee production is in disastrous condition and the civil war seems to be intensifying. 111 outline each of these events a bit and try to make some sense of what I think may happen. First, some basic political background. El Salvador has been at war with itself for about 12 years, during which time some 75,000 people have been killed (in combat, "collateral damage," and death squad assassinations), hundreds of thousands more wounded, disabled, and tortured, another almost 900,000maderefugees outside the country (mostly in the States) and 500,000 more inside. Estimates of the damages done by actual conflict, government scorched-earth and guerrilla sabotage tactics runs $6-8 billion. Keep in mind that there are about six million Salvadorans who genérate a Gross National uct of about $600 million annually. Into this country, about the size of Massachusetts, the U.S. government has poured over $4 billion in aid since 1979, with another $308 million proposed by the Bush Administration for the next fiscal year Cunder debate in Congress as of this writing, October 14). Alfredo Cristiani, a leading cof fee grower, was elected President in 1989 as the candidate of the very conservative (the U.S. Embassy says "rightwing") National Republican Alliance (ARENA). The legitimacy of the election was openly questioned by the losing parties and various observers, but for now people refer to him as "freely elected." However, there are also prominent progressive politicians in the government, among them Dr. Ruben Zamora, vice-president of the Legislative Assembly. So there is quite a vigorous legislative spectrum, if not fully representative (the rebels did not interfere with the elections this past March, but neither did they participate). The press, especially TV, tends to be very, very conservative, but there is also a widely-read progressive, even militant newspaper which continúes to publish though its offices were bumed to the ground last February. Active trade unions opérate more or less openly, if always under the threat of selective kidnappings or assassinations, and there are a range of specific organized sectors (peasants, students, progressive Christian groups) and human rights groups. Thus the political struggle is very open here, even to the point that every available wall is covered with various groups' denunciations of ticular acts of repression or politica! demands, spray-painted in militant red and black. The graffiti annoy columnists at the conservative paper, who regularly cali for the arrest and prosecution of those who would paint their opinions. One example: "We insist on justice and punishment for Cristiani [the President] and Ponce [theMinister of Defense], assassins of Martin Ayala! [a leader of the Council of Marginal Communities, killed on 8 July], [signed] AGEUS [the General Association of Students at the University of El Salvador] ." And people at the U-M complain about a little chalk. (see EL SALVADOR, page 5) I Patrick Ball NOTE: The civil war in El Salvador, now more than a decade oíd, appears to be winding down. All indications are that the country is in a period of historie change. While we can learn much about El Salvador from reading the daily newspaper, there is often more to the story. AGENDA is fortúnate to receive, from time to time, reports from AnnArborites on the rood, in faraway places, and sometimes in unusual circumstances. The editor s of AGEN DA think these reports are important becau.se they add a new dimensión, a special eyewitness connection, to events and places. The latest edition of " AnnArborites Abroad, " features a long excerpt from a etter by Patrick Ball from El Salvador. Since early October he has been working with Peace Brigades International (PBI) in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. PBI is an organization that sends unarmed international peace teams int o areas of conflict. Ball works with PBI's "human shield" project, which invobes accompanying leaders and activists whose Uves are in danger, as well as staying withpeasants who have reclaimed land and set upfarming cooperatives. An American presence, the sad reasoning goes, is more likely to deter violence against those people most threatened by the right wing of El Salvador. Ball, a U-M doctoral student in Sociology and a member of the Latin America Solidarity Committee, plans to remain in El Salvador with PBI throughMarch.1992. EL SALVADOR (from page 4) But there are still soldiers armed with assault rifles and light machine guns every where: in clusters around banks, behind sandbagged emplacements on tactically important corners and buildings, patrolling neighborhoods thought to be sympathetic to the guerrilla, riding around in open trucks. Heavy troop-carrying helicopters go overhead every few houis, and one moming just before dawn we awoke to the sound of bombing, rumbling far away on the other side of the volcano which looms over the city to the northeasL I have yet to hear gunfire in the street, but everyone assures me that it won't be long. The combination of open struggle and open repression make the situation seem very volatile, as I believe it is. Now to some specifics. As part of the rebel-govemment accords signed last year on July 26, this year the UN sent an observer mission (lawyers, not soldiers) to oversee the transition to peace. Their job is to investígate complaints and issue periodic reports that point definitive fmgers at abusers. Whether they can do this is still subject to debate, as various parties see ONUS AL's job differently, as meddlers impugning Salvadoran sovereignty, as the army's babysitters, or what have you. Their first report was, by all (see EL SALVADOR, page 11) EL SALVADOR (trom page 5) reports, uncontroversial and essentially uninteresting. However, their credibility is still high in this relatívely optimistic c límate. We have to wait and see. Meanwhile, under pressure from various fronts, the government and the rebels unexpectedly signed accords that establish a Commission for the Peace (COPAZ). The two sides met in New York the week that I arrived in S an S alv ador, and under heavy pressure from other Latín goyernments (especially the Venezuelans, who see themselves as the regional peacemakers), the U.S., and Pérez de Cuellar (Secretary General of the UN), they made tremendous progress. COPAZ is to be made up of representatives of the rebels, each party represented in the National Assembly, and military people, and is to have wide-ranging powers to begin the transition to peace. As of this writing, the various parties are choosing their representatives to the commission. No one seems quite sure exactly what the commission is supposed to do, but there is enormous optimism about COPAZ. Again, wait and see. But there is some concrete stuff happening. After almost two years of recrimination, allegations, and cover-ups, the case of the Nov. 16, 1989, murder of six Jesuit scholar-priests, their cook, and her daughter carne to trial. I refer people to the New York Times (93091) for more information on what it was all about, I' 11 just add my little bit. Keep in mind that the trial only carne to pass at all because of enormous pressure from the international human rights community, including the U.S. Congress. The case was tried in a civilian court. Nine soldiers were finally indicted, though the others were found to be the "material authors" of the crime (those who pulled the triggers), they were not convicted of murder, nor were the "intellcctual authors" (those who may have planned or s anc tioned thekillings) pointed out. Only those who gave the orders, a Colonel and LL Colonel on the staf f at the Officers' School, will be sentenced later this month. What is perhaps key in the trial is that the folks who got off, essentially, were the ones who had received training as part of their status as an elite battalion at Fort Bragg, in the U.S. Further, it is probably not an accident that the trial finished only a few days before Congressional debate was scheduled to begin on renewed aid. I leave you to draw your own conclusions about this. Meanwhile the price of coff ee is at a 1 6-year low on the world market. Coffee is third in Salvadoran foreigncurrency earnings, behind direct U.S. govemment aid and remittances from S alvadorans living abroad (in the States). Thus, the price drop (declining steadily all summer) constitutes a major crisis for the already-battered economy . This is recognized by the conservative wing of the popular media, which is very publicly worried about the fall in the nation's revenues, and chronicles the ongoing battle over coffee taxes. The Jesuit University of Central America's weekly review, "Proceso," published an article a few weeks back in which they pointed out that coffee earnings in the first trimester of 1991 dropped 30% compared to 1990. They also wam of the effect cf the "threat of an international boycott of our coffee," which could paralyze the coffee sector. The article concludes that "the truth is that coffee production for export does not seem to have too much future in the actual conditiovis of the international market."Therefore El Salvador should start looking for other ways to earn money - ways that lead to less unequal structures of wealth distribution. This country has depended very heavily on coffee for a hundred years, so these are strong words from the country 's mostrespected intellectual institution. And finally, every day the rebels and the government make their respective claims about the war's body count. I try to read it every day, but it gets a little depressing and repetitive. All that I can discern is that the war continúes, as fïercely as ever, if not more so, as each side tries to consolidate its position before the (more or less inevitable if only official) cease-fire freezes the lines of control. But let me re-emphasize that a cease-fire only means peace in one very limited sense. The conditions which sparked the war (inequalities in wealth distribution, lack of jobs, generations of poverty in the face of wealth, repression) have not gone away. And that's how I'd want to wrap up this section. Even if the war inconclusively concludes (as it seems it must), the violence is not going to end soon. As the example of Nicaraguahas tragically shownus, it is very hard to find jobs for tens of thousands of ex-soldiers, on both sides, who've done nothing but kill for so long. The leaders get bought off and can retire, the foot soldiers get left, older and skilless, to fend for themselves. This in the midst of what seems will be tremendous economie flux as the coffee industry may be forced to reorganize. The two other major sources of revenue, both from the United States, may continue, but neither engages many Salvadorans (here in El Salvador) in its production; it doesn't take much time to cash checks, whether from USAID or from family in Los Angeles. However, I think there are some crucial lessons that we can draw. For now, 111 point only to the relative increase in the importance of U.S. aid. The dependence of the govemment, especially the military, on U.S. assistance will increase as coffee revenues weaken. The U.S. will certainly encourage them to buy some small measure of civil peace with lavish if short-term development projects (the "peace fund" that liberal Congressfolk often propose in opposition to continued military aid). If history is any guide, U.S. attention will soon disappear as Central America continúes to fade from the geopolitical picture. This means that Congressional decisions will continue to have tremendous effect here, at least for this fiscal year, and by extensión, that I am safer. The last thing that Salvadoran govemment officials want is another catchphrase in the U.S. Congress, like "four American nuns" or "six Jesuit priests," to haunt their aid hearings. I'm not condoning this, just noting it.

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