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El Salvador.

1992's Peace Accords called for end to war, |negotiated revolution,' yet conditions remain anything but peaceful

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador -- After several years of drought, the heavens opened this year in Central America. In Santa Tecla, a town not far from the Salvadoran capital that prides itself on its clean and prosperous streets, a mountain of garbage dislodged by the rains buried 25 people alive. The mayor, a member of the privileged minority that produces the garbage, was outraged. "These people are so stupid and ignorant. We had told them time and again that it was dangerous to be in the city dump."

It was cold comfort for the families and neighbors of the victims. In order to survive, they have no choice but to grub daily through the rotting garbage, bitten by fleas, lice and rats, as they forage for recyclable materials or complete with buzzards and dogs for a home that has still a scrap of meat.

This was not the only impact of the torrential rains. As water flooding the hold of a sinking ship drives the rats on deck, the rising water forced into the open thousands of people who live like rats on riverbanks, gorges and the edges of garbage dumps all over El Salvador. Many lost shacks, tools and cooking utensils, children, chickens, the few rags and tatters they owned.

Official statistics ignore such life-and-death realities. What they stress is a steady growth in the gross national product and in exports of nontraditional products. They also show an increase in the fiscal deficit and in the negative commercial balance since the present government, ARENA, took office in 1989. In 1992, imports -- largely luxuries -- exceeded exports by $1.1 billion, almost twice the figure for 1989. Simultaneously, servicing of the external debt rose from 7.4 percent of value of exports to 21.19 percent.

Inflation for each of the last two years has been over 19 percent. It would have been much higher were it not for two invisible items that also are not recorded in the official reports. One is the massive inflow of dollars from the close to half million Salvadorans in the United States, most of them either undocumented or with temporary documents. Economist Elisabeth Hayek estimates their remittances as greater than total exports. There is scarcely a single family of the poorest 80 percent of Salvadorans, she says, that does not have at least one such wage earner in the United States.

For many of the estimated 50 percent unemployed (no credible statistics exist), this is their principal source of survival. For all of them, President Clinton's decision to extend by 18 months the agreement not to deport undocumented Salvadorans was equivalent to a stay of execution for those on death row.

Both Salvadoran president Alfredo Cristiani and Archbishop Arturo Rivera Damas had appealed to Clinton for this extension, citing the danger of chaos if the remittances ceased and the number of unemployed was raised by the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of young Salvadorans.

The second unrecorded item consists of narcodollars laundered in El Salvador. One can only guess the amount, but one economist said it may equal the remittances from Salvadorans in the United States, and that much of its goes in payment for luxury imports.

To aggravate the situation further, the U.S. government is hopelessly in arrears in implementing the obligations it assumed when it signed the Peace Accords with the FMLN in January 1992. In the words of Alvaro de Soto, the principal U.N. mediator, the accords were intended not only to end the war but to bring about a "negotiated revolution." Purging military officers guilty of gross human rights violations and disbanding the National Guard and Treasury Police were to take place immediately.

A new civilian police force was to be created to replace the existing National Police. Land was to be transferred or sold to ex-combatants and civilians in conflict zones, and titles for those occupying land were to be legalized. The judiciary was to be reformed, a revised electoral code adopted, and the FMLN allowed to become a political party.

It now seems clear the government never intended to keep its side of a bargain forced on it by a U.S. administration, which had decided that domestic opposition to its massive military and financial support of a clearly corrupt regime lacking a social base was politically too expensive.

The FMLN, for its part, had long recognized that it could never win the war as long as the United States continued to support its adversary. Since 1983 it had been urging a negotiated settlement, and in talks arranged with U.N. participation, it struck a hard bargain.

Pent-up need for truth

Of particular importance was the creation of a Truth Commission to establish the blame for violations of human rights, including the killing of 75,000 civilians during the 12-year war without their assassins having been brought to justice. Its members, chosen by the U.N. secretary general, were Belasario Betancur, ex-president of Colombia; Reinaldo Figueredo Planchart ex-foreign minister of Venezuela; and Professor Thomas Buergenthal of George Washington University.

The pent-up need for truth overcame all apprehension. In spite of continued assassinations during the eight months of hearings, over 7,000 cases were examined on the basis of direct testimony, and over 18,000 from secondary sources.

The Salvadoran armed services and government limited their cooperation to charges against the FMLN. The U.S. government gave $1 million to fund the inquiry but refused to provide names and addresses of U.S. military personnel stationed in El Salvador. The report, issued last March, was a bombshell.

In addition to naming high officials responsible for massacres, it called for removing human rights violators from public office, reforming the military and judiciary, promoting human rights, democracy, the rule of law and national reconciliation. All found responsible for gross violations were to be dismissed immediately and excluded from public, military or security office for 10 years. The new national police force intended to replace the National Police should be supported. It was a blueprint for the revolution promised by the Peace Accords.

The Truth Commission blamed the FMLN for 5 percent of the violations recorded. Its general command had approved the killing of civilian mayors, and the ERP, People's Revolutionary Army, killed at least 11 mayors. The state and its agents, together with its allied paramilitaries and death squads, were responsible for 85 percent of the violations. Responsibility was not determined in the remaining 10 percent.

The Law of National Reconciliation of January 1992, just after the signing of the Peace Accords, amnestied all except those involved in the principal cases. The Truth Commission was specific in calling for action on these cases by identifying by name those responsible.

They included the three people who had assassinated Archbishop Romero under orders from Roberto D'Aubuisson (since deceased); the head of the National Police, General Eugenio Vides Casanova, who helped in the cover-up of the killing of the four U.S. religious women; Minister of Defense General Rene Emilio Ponce; his Vice Minister General Orlando Zepeda; four other members of the army high command, who ordered the murder of the Jesuits and their two employees; and four ERP commanders responsible for the execution of 11 mayors.

Reform of the judiciary, the commission said, was essential. This should include the immediate removal of all members of the Supreme Court, especially its president, Mauricio Gutierrez Castro, for covering up human rights abuses.

The reaction of the parties named was significant. The FMLN immediately accepted the report, including the condemnation of some of its own actions, and publicly asked pardon. Not so the armed forces, the judiciary, and the extreme right in general. Most of them do not bother to challenge the accuracy of the report. They simply act as though it changes nothing. Typical was the comment of the Supreme Court president: "At the time, I said the naming of the Truth Commission was an error. I was wrong. It was an act of stupidity."

Equally significant was the statement of the Minister of Planning that the $2 billion needed to carry out the promised social programs must come -- except for $17.5 million on hand -- from external sources. The inference is that the oligarchy feels no obligation to tax itself in order to fulfill its commitments.

In an attempt to dispose of the report summarily, the ARENA-dominated Assembly rushed through a general amnesty for all current and former military officers, guerrillas and others, including death squad members.

Subsequent events confirm that the military, as well as powerful businessmen, landowners and leading politicians, who were cited by the Truth Commission as supporters of the death squads, still rule El Salvador and are determined not to implement the findings.

Under Washington's threat to hold up aid, the armed forces high command was finally retired -- with full honors and extremely generous pensions and gratuities -- only to be replaced by officers with equally unsavory reputations.

Very little of the land reform stipulated in the Peace Accords has been implemented, and it is quite clear the government has no intention of fulfilling its promises on this or indeed any of the promised reforms.

No move has been made to reconstitute the Supreme Court. Instead, its president, cited by name in the report, has been honored with an appointment to the Organization of American States. This was read at first as a device to remove him quietly from the scene. Not so, he has told the press, explaining that he is able to do both jobs.

Particularly serious is the foot-dragging on the PNC, National Civilian Police, which under the Peace Accords should replace the National Police before the end of next year. Only a fraction of the funds needed to recruit and train this force has been provided, while the NP has increased its numbers by incorporating members from the suppressed National Guard and Treasury Police, as well as demobilized soldiers.

Although the U.N. secretary general has expressed his concern about the NP's failure to reduce its numbers, its academy continues to admit and graduate new officers. The PNC has been assigned only to a few remote areas with little population.

Tactics unchanged

The fact that the NP controls most of the country bodes ill for freedom of elections in March 1994. Its terrorist tactics have not changed, as was demonstrated vividly when an NP squad in San Salvador tear-gassed a peaceful procession of disabled war veterans, many of them in wheelchairs, then opened fire, killing one and wounding about 20.

Even more ominous is the return to the city streets and country roads of patrols of the armed forces who were confined to barracks by the Peace Accords. President Cristiani justified this action as a response to increased delinquency. Many suspect it is a political move to frighten people to vote for ARENA in the upcoming elections.

The San Salvador archdiocese called the action "a cure worse than the disease," and a violation of the Peace Accords. Proceso, a weekly publication of the Jesuit university, noted editorially that delinquency, though extremely high, has not grown significantly since the Peace Accords. What has changed, it said, is that crimes are committed with more violence and given greater space in the government-controlled media. This it interprets as a government policy to justify renewed army oppression of the civilian population.

Writing in Estudios Centroamericanos, another Jesuit publication, Rodolfo Cardenal says the fundamental lesson of the Truth Commission's report is that the Salvadoran state has broken down completely by turning itself into a mere facade with marginal power, while the real power is in the hands of powerful groups that have operated with scandalous impunity and have sown terror by means of a network illegally armed bands.

Jesuit theologian Jon Sobrino adds that the Peace Commission's report has become a symbol of truth, of subversion and of liberation. From the Christian viewpoint, it is good news and a moment of grace.

Without naming names, the Truth Commission mentioned very clearly the role of the United States in many of the human rights violations. Not only the Salvadoran government but our own is now offered a moment of grace.

Will we accept it?
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Title Annotation:progress since 1992 peace accords
Author:MacEoin, Gary
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Sep 3, 1993
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