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Redefining democracy in El Salvador: new spaces and new practices for the 1990s.

1. Democracy, Institutions, Spaces, and Political Practices

January 16, 1992. The Salvadoran government and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) sign a peace agreement in Mexico City, thereby closing the political period that opened in 1980 and beginning another period in the country's history, one of unpredictable characteristics and uncharted routes.

Associated with peace is democracy -- its construction, about which everybody talks and for which all Salvadoran political sectors are committed to struggle. Yet what democracy -- which institutions and which spaces and political practices are we talking about? The following pages try to move toward an answer to this crucial question, based on three premises. First, there are multiple conceptions of democracy. Second, democracy is a process of permanent construction. Third, because of the previous absence in El Salvador of a genuinely democratic system, we are not talking about recovering something that was lost or fixing something that was broken, but rather a process of construction without a blueprint.

The underlying hypothesis is that throughout the decade of the 1980s, in the midst of bloody civil war, new types of political practices, organizational forms, and spaces were developing in El Salvador that transcend the institutions and political practices of classical liberal democracy, and that constitute the basis for the construction of a new democratic system, one that is open and permanently developing. Undoubtedly, this would not have been possible without the armed struggle directed by the FMLN. The challenge now is to consolidate that process in a context devoid of opposing armed forces and military confrontation, which means relying exclusively on social and political forces.

The nonexistence of a democratic political system in El Salvador is not, as in many countries of the capitalist periphery, the product of misfortune or of cultural factors (Amin, 1991). The explanation lies in the form in which the nation's Mario Lungo Ucles is the author of several prize-winning books on El Salvador and a researcher at the Universidad Centroamericana ("Jose Simion Canas," Apdo. 01-168, San Salvador, El Salvador). Translated by Ed McCaughan. economy and society were structured from the beginning of the last century, I a process that culminated in the last two decades of the 1800s with El Salvador's definitive insertion into the world-capitalist system. The constitution of an oligarchic regime that was politically, socially, and economically exclusionary was indispensable to this insertion, and in El Salvador the characteristic features of classical liberal democracies were practically absent until the final decades of the 20th century.

Presently, the new international division of labor, which is assigning a new role to the economies of peripheral nation-states, demands a change in the traditionally repressive and dictatorial governments that have prevailed until very recently. This is stimulating processes of democratization that are, however, only partial and generally limited to the political system, as manifested principally in the election of representatives through nonfraudulent electoral processes.

Let us return now to the first premise: the absence of a universal model of democracy. Liberal democracy itself, as a form of organizing the economy and society, historically has assumed different forms. Despite the existence of certain elements universal to all democratic regimes -- the individual election of representatives, the search for consensus, formal equality based on political rights, etc. -- the conditions in each country have made the model of liberal democracy particular to each case. However, even recognizing this, classical liberal democracy, as a political expression of capitalism, is not a universal and permanent model. Other models predate it, coexist with it, and will continue to exist, as yet incomplete products of incessant historical transformations.

This is why, instead of limiting our discussion to the strictly conceptual plane (although such discussions are indispensable at certain moments), we prefer to focus our analysis on the emerging democratic practices, on the constitution of new spaces and organizational forms developed in El Salvador in the 1980s, which prefigure a new and particular form of democracy that transcends the liberal conception. Moreover, the issue is not that the current democratic system in El Salvador is imperfect and that the task is to fill its voids. To accept this position is to fall into a static vision of democracy, reduced to trying to achieve its classical liberal form.

Liberal democracy, apart from being limited to the political-institutional sphere and lacking an integral social dimension, has as its axis a prefixed set of norms that guides the organization of the economy and society. It also means imposing the will of the majority (expressed almost exclusively through elections) over both negotiated solutions to conflicts and the construction of consensus, even though democracy implies the establishment of rules (not all of which are necessarily norms that must be carried out) for resolving conflicts within society without recurring to force (Bobbio, 1990). Additionally, we should remember the predominance of representation over participation within this conception.2

We need to deepen the critique of the liberal theory of democracy even further, however; to do so, it is useful to observe the relations among subjectivity, citizenship, emancipation, and regulation. 3 In liberal political theory, the principle of citizenship refers exclusively to civil and political citizenship, the exercise of which resides exclusively in the individualized vote. In this concept, then, the principle of community is marginal and there is no suggestion of the formation of collective wills. Civil society is conceived of as a total unit that is the domain of the private.

The principle of subjectivity is broader than that of citizenship, which is why "citizen equality" clashes with the differences implied in the principle of subjectivity. Directly and indirectly, the principle of citizenship thus carries out a function of regulation and setting norms, which predominates over emancipation, and this characterizes the liberal conception of democracy. Moreover, within this regulation, the market predominates over the state, while both prevail over the community.

Obviously social and political struggles have been gaining space within this conception of classical liberal democracy, and one could argue that the welfare state implied a move from civic and political citizenship to social citizenship, i.e., the conquest of social rights in labor relations, health, education, housing, etc. Nevertheless, this meant an integration of the working classes into the capitalist economy and, consequently, a deepening of regulation to the detriment of emancipation, thus aggravating the tension between subjectivity and citizenship (de Sousa Santos, 1991).

We do not think it is valid, therefore, to limit ourselves to an analysis of the existence or nonexistence of institutions of classical liberal democracy (and to the peculiarities of their functioning), e.g., parliament, electoral processes, or political parties. We think it is more useful to analyze the political practices that have been constructed in the midst of and together with the military confrontation that dominated political struggles in El Salvador during the 1980s. These practices allow us to rescue the central problem of power, since social relations are structured around power and not only around the principle of citizenship or the constitution of identity. As the painful recent history of the former socialist camp has demonstrated, the problem of power is not unrelated to the principles of subjectivity and emancipation.

These democratic political practices have developed beyond the sphere of the political system; they have affected the production and distribution of material and cultural goods and have even modified the world of the symbolic. Consequently, they are key to the modification of power relations between the distinct social classes. Furthermore, these practices have developed within a changing national and international economic base. These national economic changes will be addressed in the following section. Regarding the international changes, the growing internationalization of the economy and necessary ties with the world economy must be viewed critically. Nevertheless, they have led to an understanding that humanity now finds itself as part of one inseparable world -- the product, among other factors, of the technological revolution and the transnationalization and globalization of production, finance, and trade. This does not, however, imply the existence of a universalizable model of society (and consequently of democracy); nor does it negate the crisis of distribution and equity, and of values and perspectives, the greatest expression of which is the growing poverty and inequality of opportunities among countries, social classes, and genders (Gorostiaga, 1991).

To summarize, democracy should be understood as a permanent process of construction that assumes specific forms in each concrete case, in a movement of permanent broadening and re-creation. Therefore, an analysis of democracy must go beyond classical-liberal institutionality.

2. The New Political Spaces and Practices Developed in the Midst of the War in El Salvador: Emerging Organizational Forms

Clearly, more than a decade of war has radically modified Salvadoran society and economy. Although its previous structures have been maintained, the population and its relationship with the territory have changed due to international migration and international displacements. Though they are practically the same, the fundamental productive axes that have allowed for the accumulation of capital have begun to change with the restructuring of the economy toward the external sector to enable a competitive insertion into the current international division of labor. The country's labor structure, however, unlike previous years, has an important rural cooperative sector and an impressive level of informal urban economic activities, to which can be added the relative growth of public employment because of policies pursued by the Christian Democratic governments in the 1980s. Phenomena such as foreign aid and the remittance of money by immigrants have produced economic and cultural distortions of enormous importance.

We find ourselves confronted with an economy and a society of increasing heterogeneity and complexity and the configuration of a social-class structure that is radically distinct from that of the 1970s. These changes are expressed in the new political practices that have been emerging since 1980, that is, in the constitution of new spaces and new organizational forms.

Some years ago, in the second half of the 1970s, new forms of political organization emerged that were unknown in the previous history of the country: mass fronts, which brought together sectoral and regional organizations, sponsored new political practices and opened spaces that subsequently closed up in 1980 when the Salvadoran civil war began. This process was interrupted in 1980, and from then until 1983, there was a profound retreat by the popular movement; at the same time, however, this constituted a transition to the construction of new forms of organization and political practices.(4)

Thus, at the end of 1983, the Movimiento Unitario Sindical y Gremial de El Salvador (MUSYGES) was formed, integrating union and guild organizations that represented distinct political orientations. They sponsored a platform of struggle that for the first time connected economic demands with national political demands, such as a negotiated settlement to the nation's war. In 1984, with the election of Napoleon Duarte as president, there was a partial opening of political spaces, which the popular movement quickly took advantage of by reinitiating street demonstrations.

Within this context, new phenomena emerged, including the growing autonomy of the workers' organizations from the FMLN, a process not free of contradictions as it proceeded to break traditional left conceptions; second, the incorporation into the struggle of new social sectors, such as public employees (which until then were almost completely disorganized) and the cooperativists of the rural sector affected by land reform; and third, the enormous flexibility that allowed for changes in organizational schemes. An expression of the latter was the February 8, 1986, creation of the Union Nacional de Trabajadores Salvadorenos (UNTS), which incorporated social sectors that transcended the workplace, such as organizations of those displaced by the war or those left homeless by natural disasters. This tendency was not exclusive to the Left; for example, on March 6 of the same year, the government and the Christian Democratic Party sponsored the creation of the Union Nacional Obrero Campesino (UNOC).

A year full of new political practices, 1986 signaled the end of the retreat begun in 1980 and opened new perspectives for the struggle for democracy in El Salvador, a process marked by debates and contradictions. The year 1989 proved to be a key year. On the one hand, the forces of the Right also changed their political practices, developing ideological positions that allowed them to win the presidential elections. ARENA consolidated itself as the first party to directly express the political interests of El Salvador's dominant classes since the 1920s. The FMLN, for its part, stretched its forces to launch the November offensive, during which the Jesuit priests who directed the Universidad Centroamericana were assassinated. The revolutionary guerrillas' offensive, which had popular support, has been the subject of broad debate regarding its significance and consequences. For our purposes here, the value of the offensive lies in having modified the correlation of political and military forces in the country by producing an opening of new political spaces and making possible the development of political practices that had been completely or partially questioned until then. As of November 1989, a negotiated settlement of the war took on a dynamic that proved unstoppable and the popular movement continued to expand in the process of becoming increasingly more autonomous in relation to the FMLN and the rest of the political parties. The struggle for democracy, and not just for pacification of the country, emerged in the political platforms of all sectors, with all its potential, ambiguity, and danger. For the popular sectors, this was the chance to demonstrate their flexibility and creativity -- one of the greatest examples being the creation of the Comite Permanente del Debate Nacional (CPDN) at the end of the 1980s, which still plays a key role today.

Bridging these changes is a question that has been of singular importance for the country's history since the popular insurrection of 1932 -- that of the legal or illegal character of political struggle. In contrast to the 1970s, dating from 1983, as part of the complex political changes occurring in the country, the majority of the organizations and their struggles have acquired a legal character, which accompanied the novel and combative form. Several questions must be addressed to explain this change and its consequences. The first refers to the criterion of legality with respect to the organizations and struggles of the popular movement. Strictly juridical criteria are inadequate, because the coercive and restrictive character of Salvadoran legislation during recent decades was such that most expressions of the left political movement and the popular movement were considered illegal a priori. Thus, when organizations or practices, despite not being legally recognized, manage to win space and political legitimacy to the point that they can no longer be prohibited (or the political cost of their prohibition is very high), they contribute to changing the sphere of the legal and extend the reach of democracy. As we will see below, the peace negotiations, as a politically defined space, have played this role at the highest levels in the Salvadoran case.

This process of broadening the political terrain has been creatively encouraged by the FMLN and the popular movement in recent years and has culminated, in some cases, in the political and juridical recognition of organizations, spaces, and actions. In the 1980s, unlike the previous decade, the movements sought not only political recognition, but also legal insertion. Previously, illegality may not have been an attribute that was consciously sought after, but neither was it rejected. An important factor in bringing about this change was the reconstitution of the bourgeoisie as a political class, the creation of its class party (ARENA), its direct exercise of political power, the opening, limited though it was, of spaces for the expression of political opposition, and the realization of nonfraudulent electoral events (Lungo Ucles, 1990). These developments forced the popular movement to insert itself into the new political legality.

Along with social and political legitimacy and increasing legality, which was won through a vigorous struggle that provoked repression and the assassination of more than a few popular movement leaders, the movement took up the banners of peace, a negotiated political solution to the war, and democratization. Together with the military strength of the FMLN and the profound changes taking place in the heart of the rightist political and social forces, the popular movement thereby contributed to the opening of significant political spaces, some of which were completely new. By the beginning of the 1990s, political practices had been developed that were previously unknown in the history of El Salvador. In the following pages, we shall analyze one of those, the negotiations to end the war that began in 1981.

3. observing a Privileged Space: The Negotiations to Resolve the War

The negotiations that led to the signing of the peace accord on January 16, 1992, have a long and fitful history that covers all of the last decade. More precise analyses of their details will have to be made in the future. Here we wish to highlight just one of the various meanings of this process: the role of the negotiations as a space in which the political correlation of forces was expressed and where the highest-level decisions were taken, thereby introducing changes in the existing classical-liberal institutional framework and broadening democracy.

First, however, we present a brief summary of the negotiating process. We can distinguish three phases in terms of the existing forces and the correlation of power among them. The first runs from May 1981 to October 1984, when the negotiating initiative was taken by the FMLN-FDR.(5) The second phase is from October 1984 to October 1987, during which time the Christian Democratic government, led by Napoleon Duarte, carried the initiative, though the FMLN-FDR also participated actively. During the third phase, which begins in February 1989 and ends in January 1992, the negotiating process accelerated and the principal actors were the FMLN and the ARENA government of Alfredo Cristiani, in office since mid-1989.

The key moments in these three phases are detailed below, together with interpretive elements that explain their origins, limitations, and the factors leading to the denouement.(6)

First Phase


* May 22: the Political-Diplomatic Commission of the FMLN-FDR

proposed for the first time dialogue as a means to find a political solution

to the armed conflict, a proposal rejected by the government.

* October 4: the Coordinator of the Ruling Junta of Nicaragua, Daniel

Ortega, presented the United Nations General Assembly with a proposal

for peace talks offered by the FMLN-FDR. 1982:

* October 26: the FMLN-FDR proposed to the government, the Legislative

Assembly, and the Armed Forces, a plan for a dialogue to seek a

negotiated solution. 1983:

* July 18: a "Peace Commission" created by the government of Alvaro

Magana agreed to an interview with representatives of the guerrillas,

with whom it met in Bogota on August 29. 1984:

* January 11: the FMLN-FDR propose a national dialogue for the formation

of a "Provisional Government of Broad Participation," which would

be responsible for establishing the conditions for a solution to the war.

* May 18: the FMLN-FDR sent this proposal to president-elect Napoleon


Up to this point, the FMLN-FDR carried the initiative, which is explainable by the fact that, since their creation in the 1970s, the prevalent conception among the Salvadoran revolutionary forces was that military actions were only a tool to support political struggle, a condition imposed by the coercive and totally repressive model of government that had ruled the country continually since the early 1930s. The political dimension of the war clearly distinguished the FMLN from other Latin American guerilla organizations (Lungo Ucles, 1985). Additionally, the FMLN, in a position shared by the parties of the democratic Left (the social democrats and the social Christians), maintained that even nonfraudulent elections were not the proper mechanism for resolving the war and for bringing about the needed structural changes.

Thus, this position was not a product of the FMLN's military and political weakness, as the government and the parties of the political Right maintained; this erroneous assessment led them to believe they could militarily defeat and politically isolate the revolutionary forces. To the contrary, however, these years were characterized by an impressive military strengthening of the FMLN, which led to abroadening and consolidation of the war's rural fronts. Recognition of this reality began abroad with the May 22, 1981, declaration of France and Mexico, which recognized the FMLN-FDR as a "representative political force" of the Salvadoran people; this declaration gave the FMLN-FDR political cover for its diplomatic work. A little more than a year later, on July 31, 1983, U.S. Special Ambassador for Central America, Richard Stone, met in Bogota with a member of the FDR, through the mediation of the Colombian president, in a beginning recognition by the U.S. of the new Salvadoran reality. On August 30 of that same year, Stone met with Guillermo Ungo, the coordinator of the Political-Diplomatic Commission of the FMLN-FDR, in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Obviously, conditions did not exist during this first phase for negotiations to be carried out. Nevertheless, it is evident today that the initiatives of the FMLN-FDR were of enormous value in leading to the political recognition of these organizations and introducing into El Salvador's internal political debate the question of a negotiated solution to the war, an issue taken up, from his own perspective, by Napoleon Duarte in October 1984, opening up the second phase.

Second Phase


* October 8: in a speech before to United Nations General Assembly,

President Duarte invited the FMLN-FDR to a dialogue on October 15 in

the town of La Palma, Chalatenango.

* October 15: with the mediation of the Church, the meeting between the

government and the FMLN-FDR was carried out in La Palma; each party

agreed to study the other's proposals to achieve peace and humanize the


* November 30: a second meeting was held between the Christian Democratic

government and the FMLN-FDR in Ayagualo, near San Salvador.

The FMLN-FDR presented a "Global Plan" for a political solution to the

conflict and the establishment of democracy, while the government

pressed the FMLN to lay down its arms and incorporate itself into

national political life. A government proposal created a "Special Commission"

to negotiate peace. 1987:

* October 4 and 5: the third meeting of the dialogue was held in the offices

of the Catholic Nunciature in San Salvador, without any type of accord

being reached.

During this second phase, substantive changes can be seen. The government and a sector of the U.S. administration began to recognize the representativeness and political legitimacy of the FMLN-FDR and the impossibility of militarily winning the war. However, the armed forces and the political parties of the Right refused to recognize this and maintained a persistent blockade of the negotiating process.

Nonetheless, important changes were underway that would lead to a drastic change in ruling-class perceptions and positions about negotiations:

1. The growing consciousness that a military solution to the war was


2. Political transformations in the heart of the dominant classes, which, as

noted above, led to the political reconstitution of the Salvadoran bourgeoisie

as a class and to the formation of ARENA as its true organic party;


3. The winning of control over the government by ARENA in 1989, first of

the Legislative Assembly and later of the presidency, with Alfredo

Cristiani representing the most modern and politically most mature

sector of the Salvadoran ruling classes.

It should also be noted that the Christian Democratic Party has never directly represented these classes, although it defended their interests. On the contrary, the nation's bourgeoisie has always assessed the Christian Democratic Party as having populist leanings and statist and communist orientations, which threaten the interests of free enterprise.

This period also witnessed a growing development of the FMLN's political conceptions and its correct assessment of changes in the world situation. It should not be forgotten that the Salvadoran revolutionary forces emerged and developed with a high degree of economic independence and ideological autonomy from the international Communist movement, and that its tactical, strategic, and programmatic proposals had a deep national content that was the product of its relationship with the nation's working masses. Other political parties also perceived that changes were taking place and they joined the negotiating process through another new "inter-party" organizational space, which included the social democrats (Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario, MNR), the social Christians (Movimiento Popular Social-Cristiano, MPSC), and the Union Democratica Nacionalista (UDN) party, made up of the then-dissolved FDR. With regard to the U.S., a key actor in Salvadoran politics in recent decades, only at the end of 1990 did it begin to support the negotiations, a position not unrelated to the ending of the Cold War and the dissolution of the socialist bloc -- a change that required a particular analysis of what was not possible to do at that moment.

Third Phase


* February 20 and 21: a meeting was held in Oaxtepec, Mexico, between

the FMLN and the "inter-party" group, in which the former elaborated

the public proposal made on January 23: postpone the presidential

elections then set for March and designate a provisional president for the

Legislative Assembly to make possible their incorporation into the

electoral process, after having negotiated a cease-fire and reforms of the

Constitution and electoral law. The government rejected the proposals.

* September 13-15: representatives of the new Alfredo Cristiani government

and the FMLN met in Mexico and agreed to reopen the dialogue

process; they invited the U.N. General Secretary to send a representative

to act as a "witness."

* October 16 and 17: a second meeting in this phase was held in San Jose,

Costa Rica, with the participation of the U.N. 1990:

* April 4: an agreement on guidelines was signed in Geneva, defining the

steps to be followed in the negotiations; the parties committed themselves

not to abandon the talks unilaterally.

* May 21: in Caracas, the FMLN and the government agreed to an agenda

and a calendar, including the themes of the armed forces, human rights,

the judicial and electoral system, constitutional reform, socioeconomic

problems, U.N. verification, and guarantees for the incorporation of the

FMLN into national political life.

* July 26: the FMLN and the government signed an agreement in San Jose,

Costa Rica, on human rights to be verified by the U.N. in El Salvador,

taking effect immediately. 1991:

* April: in Mexico, agreement was reached on important constitutional

reforms affecting the armed forces, the judicial system, the electoral

system, and human rights; the agreements were approved by the Legislative

Assembly on April 30.

* September 16-25: in New York, with the direct mediation of the U.N.

General Secretary, agreement was reached on a "condensed agenda" to

speed up the negotiations.

* November 16: the guerrillas declared an indefinite truce during a meeting

in Mexico.

* December: uninterrupted negotiations were carried out in San Miguel de

Allende, Mexico, and New York. Alfredo Cristiani attended the New

York meetings, where the points of greatest discrepancy were discussed:

reeducation and purification of the armed forces, creation of a new

civilian police force, and the demobilization of the FMLN. Agreement

was reached on the accords to be signed in Mexico on January 16, 1992,

and the cease-fire was set for February 1, 1992.

A detailed analysis of the full scope of the agreements is beyond the limits of this article. We will focus only on those aspects relevant to the theme of new political practices, the emergence of new organizational forms, the generation of new political spaces, and through these, the broadening of democracy.

During the third phase, beginning in 1990, we find agreements that make clear that the negotiating table -- and the parallel processes such as the creation of the "inter-party" group and its discussions with the FMLN -- were the spaces in which the real correlation of forces was demonstrated and where the decisive agreements were made, decisions that in a classical-liberal democracy would correspond to institutions such as the legislative, executive, or judicial branches. This is how agreement was reached in 1990 on human rights and, in 1991, on constitutional changes and the creation of the Commission for the Consolidation of Peace (COPAZ). An analysis of the meaning of the September 1991 New York accords, which included the formation of COPAZ, allows us to see the role of the negotiations in the process of broadening democracy.

4. The Spaces of Negotiation and Their Structural Meaning:

Toward a Broadening of Democracy

The content of the September 1991 New York accords transcended the limits of the nation's existing institutionality because decisions were taken on questions that would compete with the central government's bodies: structure and functioning and doctrine of the armed forces, creation of the National Civil Police, land ownership, and, principally, the creation of COPAZ. We do not believe, as sectors of the Right adamantly claim, that this amounted to violence against the established institutionality and legality by violating the Constitution. To the contrary, we think that the New York accords led to a broadening of democracy and its practices in El Salvador, and that this corresponds to current historical conditions. An example with similar characteristics can be seen in Nicaragua, in the special mechanism created for working out agreements between the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) and the government of Violeta Chamorro.(7)

The establishment of COPAZ has been appraised as the start of a truly democratic and modern institutionality for El Salvador, in that it transfers to the broadest representation of civil society the responsibility for the supervision and verification of the peace agreements.(8) COPAZ is made up of two government representatives, including a member of the armed forces, two FMLN representatives, and one for the parties or coalitions represented in the Legislative Assembly. The Archbishop of San Salvador and one delegate of the U.N.'s accord-verification forces (ONUSAL) participate as observers.

For the first time, the political opposition has the opportunity to guarantee itself and institutionalize an important and effective share of control over the ruling party. This will prevent them from being simply government appendages or a useless opposition, since their conclusions and recommendations on the execution of the peace accords can be made public, and since the FMLN and the government have committed themselves to carrying out the agreements (Boletin Proceso, 1991).

According to one of the two FMLN representatives to COPAZ (Jovel, 1991), this was a new type of mechanism, sui generis, born of the political negotiations and with characteristics that are particularly adequate for the Salvadoran reality; it is the most pluralistic expression of civil society, makes possible permanent political control over all aspects of the agreements, and will have a key role in eliminating the domination of militarism over civil society. At the end of January 1992, COPAZ faced its first test: it was necessary to approve the amnesty before the cease-fire on February 1. That stilled up a broad debate between the right-wing political parties and the armed forces on one side, and the FMLN, center and left parties, the Catholic Church, and the vast majority of the organizations of civil society on the other. The former argued for a general amnesty. The latter proposed excluding those crimes considered unjustified from any point of view (the assassination of Monsignor Romero in 1980, of the Jesuits in 1989, the massacres of Rio Sumpul and El Mozote, etc.). They maintained that pardons were possible, but only after a trial of the guilty parties. A preliminary glance at the declarations made by some deputies of the Legislative Assembly indicated that it would not be possible to reach a consensus. Nevertheless, consensus was achieved in a meeting of COPAZ in Mexico on January 23, where agreement was reached on a general amnesty with exceptions; the agreement was also approved unanimously that day by the Legislative Assembly.

The demand for democracy in El Salvador has been so profound that, as has been affirmed in the cases of Eastern Europe, the meaning of democracy has been broadened beyond political parliamentary democracy and the economic policies of the state to include the democratization of civil society itself (Frank, 1990). Given the tension in democratization between "contents" and "processes," this concept would avoid overformalization of democracy by emphasizing "process."

This brings us to the polemical issue of the limits of the current democratization process in El Salvador. The following are some questions of a general nature. First, to what extent are the petitions for the construction of a democratic order (in the restricted sense of classical-liberal democracy) associated with the needs of the currently dominant neoliberal economic model, and have they, to some degree, been imposed by external forces? Or is the demand for democracy above all something won by the popular struggles? The answer has elements of both factors. On the one hand, the expansion of democracy worldwide is clearly related to the needs of the new international division of labor, which demands new spaces for expanding the transnationalization of markets. On the other hand, the establishment and broadening of democratic regimes clearly allows for the construction of alternate spaces and projects that are truly liberating and that change economy and society, and this has only been possible because of the popular struggles.

However, also recognizing that democracy is a universal problematic, we should keep in mind historical and cultural differences. Just as there does not exist just one model of democracy, so, too, will the process of constructing and broadening democracy be particular to each case. Though we should not think of democracy in Western and universal terms, it is worthwhile to raise questions about the limits of citizenship imposed by nation-states. In a word, we should not limit democracy to its expression within social relations under capitalism.(9) This raises the debate between those who propose that the current economic restructuring and the changes in the political systems, by broadening the spaces for participation, deepen democracy, although within a new relationship between the economy and society that is guided by capital, and those who maintain that such changes make possible a rupture with liberal bourgeois democracy. In our opinion, this depends on whether there exists a project of alternate or revolutionary social change and the political forces capable of promoting and carrying it out in practice (within a process permanently marked by contradictions that must be overcome as we go). Let us return now to the key question of modifying the relations of power, a central task of a democratization process.

Going back to the principles of regulation, emancipation, subjectivity, and citizenship presented earlier, one could argue that from the perspective of emancipation, it is possible to think about new forms of citizenship (collective rather than individual), which are less based on the norms of rights and duties than on forms of participation, in a more balanced relation to subjectivity (as suggested by de Sousa Santos, 1991). Renovating democracy implies a new theory that allows us to reconstruct the concept of citizenship, of subject, and to incorporate emancipation. Within such a theory, there would also be a new vision of representative democracy and participatory democracy, and in general of the political terrain and its practices.(10)

Finally, we would like to propose some ideas about the process of democratization and the construction of a new, alternate model of development, an issue that is supposed to be taken up by the "Forum for Economic and Social Agreement," according to the New York accords. First, with respect to the economy, the following question comes to mind: how can the distribution of national wealth be democratized? The answer takes us to the question of how to define property and to the debate between those who propose state and absolutely collective property and those who defend the total market. History has shown not only the erroneousness, but also the inviability of both positions; but it has also demonstrated that we cannot simply talk about a mixed economy. This is not only about establishing different forms of property; a real democratization of the production and distribution of wealth demands popular participation in all the key mechanisms and circuits that guide the economy. The relationships between macro- and microeconomics, between regulated and unregulated, between public and private, between national and international in terms of national development -- these are key nuclei to be discussed in order to locate the proper role of the state in regulation and redistribution, and to avoid putting civil society in the position of simply managing the current unequal distribution of wealth.

Second, although the themes of citizenship and citizen rights -- concepts of undeniable importance and legitimacy -- have dominated the political debate in recent years, the basic question of justice has frequently been obviated or forgotten. The same thing has occurred with the domination of political representation over participation. A truly democratic political culture should link the practices of political society with the practices of civil society. To think about each in isolation from the other only furthers the fragmentation that characterizes currently fashionable neoliberal thought.

Third, in the cultural realm, development of an alternate vision should take advantage of the fact that culture is less directly problematic than the economy or politics, although there is limited access to the mass media, which together with the educational apparatus, are largely responsible for shaping dominant cultural concepts.(11)

The construction of a popular project, of an alternate development model, closely linked to the process of democratization, should salvage the socialist values of justice and equity and should be conceived as a permanent process in which the key is to continue conquering and building spaces so as to continue changing the relations of power, to continue building a new form of organization and distribution of political power in the country. An alternate project that claims both to resolve the structural causes of economic inequality and injustice and to respond to the accumulation of social and political demands must overcome the historical exploitation of labor, nature, and sovereignty (Gorostiaga, 1991).

The spaces of negotiation, and the coordination and alliances developed within such spaces, can have a structural meaning if they are inscribed within a global project. If this project responds to the interests of the popular majorities, who historically have been exploited and subordinated, then the creation and consolidation of these negotiating spaces, and the new organizational forms and political practices that they generate, will mean the broadening of democracy.

El Salvador in the 1990s is not about recovering or reconstructing a lost democracy, since that never existed. It is about constructing a democratic society in a process of permanent expansion of that society. The new political practices, spaces, and organizations, among which the negotiations were key, are fundamental to that effort and it will be necessary to develop them continuously. Only in this way can we overcome the fundamental obstacles to the democratization of the country: the militarization of the state and society and the unjust distribution of wealth.


(1.) See Lindon-Fuentes (1990), who provides an important discussion on the bases and the period of the structuring of the Salvadoran economy after independence. (2.) It has been suggested (e.g., by the project "democracy in countries in conflict," coordinated by ILSA in Bogota) that the move from representative to participatory democracy also accompanies the current neoliberal "modernizing" processes, e.g., in the emphasis on decentralization and the strengthening of local government. Therefore, it is necessary to critically examine this point and t it to content. (3.) The following ideas are taken from the provocative work by de Sousa Santos(1991). (4.) See Lungo Ucles (1987 and 1989) for an analysis of this process. (5.) The FDR was the Frente Democritico Revolucionario, made up of a left political party and the social democrats and social Christians. (6.) The basic chronology is taken from the newspaper, Diario Latino (January 16, 1992). (7.) The current mechanisms for reaching such agreement in Nicaragua are described in, among other places, Envio (1991). (8.) See Boletin Proceso (1991) for the opinion of El salvador's Jesuit community. (9.) Many of these ideas are taken from discussions carried out in the context of a project on democracy coordinated by ISLA in Bogota, mentioned above. (10.) Boaventura de Sousa Santos (1991) suggests the provocative conception of socialism as an "endless democracy." (11.) These ideas were developed in Lungo (1992).


Amin, Samir 1991 "El problema de la democracia en el Tercer Mundo contempordneo." Nueva Sociedad 112 (March-April). Caracas. Bobbio, Norberto 1990 "Entrevista." Leviatan (Spring). Madrid. Boletin Proceso 1991 No. 491 (October 16). San Salvador. de Sousa Santos, Boaventura 1991 "Subjectividade, cidadania, e emancipacao." Critica de Ciencias Socials 32 (June). Envio 1991 "Los dilemas politicos del Sandinismo." No. 116 (June). Managua. Frank, Andre Gunder 1990 "La revolucion en la Europa del Este." Leviatan 39 (Spring). Madrid. Gorostiaga, Xavier 1991 "America Latina frente a los desafios globales de los 90: una coyuntura estrategica." Este Pats 33-34 (June-August). Panama. Jovel, Francisco 1991 "El Salvador: la paz nacera con democracia." Interview in Panorama Internacional (October 2). San Jose, Costa Rica. Lindo-Fuentes, Hector 1990 Weak Foundations. The Economy of El Salvador in the Nineteenth Century. 1821-1898. Berkeley: University of California Press. Lungo Ucles, Mario 1992 "La constitucion de un movimiento de base amplio y su papel en la construccion del proyecto popular." Forthcoming in a publication by EPICA. Washington, D.C. 1990 El Salvador en los 80: contrainsurgencia y revolucion. San Jose: EDUCA/ FLACSO. 1989 "Movimiento popular y movimiento sindical en El Salvador en los anos 80." F. Ebert (ed.), El sindicalismo y la crisis centroamericana. San Jose: CEPAS. 1987 La Lucha de las masas en El Salvador. San Salvador: UCA Editores. 1985 El Salvador 1981-1984: la dimension politica de la guerra. San Salvador: UCA Editores.
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Title Annotation:Latin America Faces the 21st Century
Author:Ucles, Mario Lungo
Publication:Social Justice
Date:Dec 22, 1992
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