The March of Peace in El Salvador

The historic peace accords between government and resistance forces are only the beginning of the road to peace in El Salvador

By Moira Gracy

On the eve of 1992, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) and the government of El Salvador announced they had reached a negotiated political agreement to end the eleven-year old civil war. The agreement, signed in Chapultapec, Mexico on January 16, is unique in Latin American history.

Since 1981, repeated attempts have been made to negotiate an end to the war, but they rarely went beyond rhetoric. By 1990, however, several conditions had changed which made serious peace talks possible. One of the most important was the November 1989 FMLN offensive, the rebels' strongest military offensive of the war. The Salvadorean military, unable to protect even the capital city, resorted to indiscriminate bombing of residential areas to dislodge the rebels. The offensive made it clear to both sides that the war was a military stalemate. For the United States, it proved the failure of their counter-insurgency project in El Salvador. The ineffective and corrupt army that was receiving millions of dollars annually, had become in many ways more powerful than the civilian government. The U.S. Congress began to seriously question continued military aid to El Salvador, which put pressure on the Salvadoran government to negotiate peace.

Other pressures on the government included the war's disastrous effect on the Salvadoran economy, which made the implementation of the government's promised neo-liberal economic recovery plan impossible. On the other side, the fall of the Eastern European socialist states weakened the more dogmatic views within the FMLN and strengthened the push for creative approaches.

On April 4,1990 in Geneva, after strong pressures from the U.S. and the U.N., the U.N.-mediated negotiation process began. Over the next two years, a series of partial accords was reached, which included an important human rights agreement in July 1990. This agreement created the United Nations Observer Mission (ONUSAL), which began monitoring human rights violations in El Salvador in July 1991. Each time the government began stalling, often in response to military opposition to the negotiations, the FMLN stepped up military actions, forcing them to take the negotiations seriously. As peace appeared more feasible, the negotiations became continuous in October 1991. When the talks appeared deadlocked, U.N. Secretary General Perez de Cuellar invited both sides to New York and pushed for compromise. After a week of frantic activity, during the last minutes of Perez de Cuellar's term, a deal was announced.

Both sides made important and difficult concessions to reach the peace accord. the Salvadoran government agreed to sweeping changes in the military, the constitution, and the electoral process and took responsibility for implementing the changes. The FMLN agreed to eventually lay down their arms, which they have long regarded as their only guarantee of government compliance and of their own lives. The accords set an eight-month ceasefire period beginning February 1, during which the two armies would concentrate in specified areas and be gradually reduced. Other social reforms would be started in this period. On October 31, the FMLN will completely demobilize, their weapons will be destroyed, and they will continue as a political party only. A joint commission called COPAZ, made up of the government, military, the FMLN and political parties, was created to oversee the implementation of peace.

The signing of the peace accord marked the end of the war, but only the beginning of the construction of peace. While the accords provide for the demilitarization and democratization of Salvadoran society and politics, many of the roots of the conflict will still need to be resolved politically. Within the army and the government there are extremists who oppose the accords, and others who do not wish to see some of the pro-visions implemented.

Despite initial euphoria, after five months, the implementation of the accord is well behind schedule, and major problems have occurred around many issues, including the police and human rights.

According to the peace accord, the National Guard and Treasury Police, known for their brutality and systematic human rights violations, are to be dissolved. The National Police are to be gradually replaced by a new, civilian-run police force, made up of ex-soldiers, FMLN ex-combatants and new recruits, all trained to respect human rights. Rather than dissolve the two forces, however, the government reassigned them to Border Guard and Military Police duties, and left many in their own barracks with their own command structure intact. While delaying the creation of the new police force, the government appointed the former head of the governmental Human Rights office, known for ignoring violations committed by the government and army, to lead it. These manoeuvres were unacceptable to the FMLN, which delayed concentrating its forces in the assigned areas, and finally refused to demobilize the first 20% of their forces as scheduled.

The peace accords call for democratization, in particular respect for human rights. The ONUSAL continues to monitor violations, and a government Ombudsman for Human Rights has been appointed-but the Salvadoran government has yet to provide him with an office or budget. Despite the promise of elimination of human rights violations associated with the war, ONUSAL reported a mere 20% decrease in human rights violations since last year. Members of ONUSAL have been threatened and harassed. Members of the FMLN, labor unions and other popular organizations continue to receive death threats, some have disappeared, been tortured and killed. The National Police continue to carry out illegal searches and arbitrary arrests. In June and July, the offices of three news agencies in San Salvador, were burned down. According to the FMLN, U.S. embassy personnel have confirmed that right-wing extremists inside the government and army are gearing up for a "dirty war" against the left. Worst of all, the government has shown little political will to effectively prosecute these cases. The judicial system remains ineffective, and recently the Supreme Court has been embroiled in a corruption scandal.

Because of these and other problems, the government and the FMLN held a series of meetings at the end of June. They managed to push the peace process back on track-the government promised to implement the many agreements it had not, and to dissolve the police forces, and the FMLN demobilized the first of its combatants.

While peace and improving social justice are now possible in El Salvador, every provision of the accords that is implemented represents a political battle. There is a continuing need for international attention and assistance to the Salvadoran peace process in order to maintain pressure on both sides to fight their battles politically, and to respect human rights, so that the Salvadoran people may finally have the chance to develop their society as they decide.

Moira Gracy has been with the El Salvador Information Office.

Stalled again

On July 31st the Farabundo Marti Liberation Front (FMLN) was supposed to begin its second demobilization phase, but owing to tensions in the peace process the disarming will not take place for now. In a press conference that day FMLN Commander Shafik Handel said a total of 42 agreements have not been fulfilled by the government.

In June the rebels demobilized 20% of their troops, but so far no provision has been made for them by the government. According to the agreements concerning demobilization, former combatants on both sides are eligible for housing, land, technical assistance, loans, scholarships and training. The international community has given ninety-four million dollars U.S. for the program. In other peace process news, history was made on July 31St when El Salvador's Legislative Assembly passed a law legalizing the FMLN as a political body. Only eight months ago the rebels were fighting government forces on the battlefield.

The Assembly also passed a bill entitled "Military Service and Reserves" After 11 years of war and 75,000 killed, Salvadoreans will have to serve a term in the Armed Forces. Opposition deputies warn the law will contribute to the Armed Force's control over society. Through the recruitment process the military will obtain documentation on the majority of the population.

From the El Salvador Information Office

Peace Magazine Sep-Oct 1992

Peace Magazine Sep-Oct 1992, page 6. Some rights reserved.

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