A time to be realistic

Chopin, Jim

AFTER THE SALVADORAN ELECTIONS A time to be realistic JIM CHAPIN THE MARCH 31 elections in El Salvador might have been a turning point in Salvadoran history, the moment at which the long...

...Take a look at the Iberian peninsula, where the American government and the right long backed Franco and Salazar...
...to keep Roberto D'Aubuisson out of power...
...Such a result was welcomed by the U.S.: according to the Washington Post's interpretation of U.S...
...The White House has now turned around and made the exact same proposal for Nicaragua that the FDR-FMLN had suggested for El Salvador...
...What happened...
...Relatives of the president were prevented from running for office (keeping Duarte's son from being re-elected mayor of San Salvador...
...the army still featured such leading lights as Lieutenant Colonel Denis Moran, reported to be the key figure in the killing of the AIFLD workers...
...The result was a series of very complex negotiations with the armed forces, with mixed results...
...Recent elections in El Salvador, as Jack Clark and I argued in previous issues [June 3, 1983 and May 4, 1984], have been important chiefly because they settled accounts in the government coalition...
...desperately afraid of a "new Vietnam...
...Ironically, because of the coalition between ARENA and PCN, ARENA will probably get only 13 seats to the 12 for PCN...
...It is a feeling one has despite the facts...
...in this election a turnout less than two-thirds of that reported in 1982 was referred to only in passing...
...On the government side, the original moderate reform coalition that took power in a military coup in 1979 drifted steadily rightward...
...When looked at in absolute terms, something different appears...
...It's time to be truly "realistic...
...Possibly as a sort of consolation prize for sparing Pickering's head, D'Aubuisson was offered a visa to go to the United States and see his fans on the New Right...
...This is an argument that the Reagan administration has never applied to armed leftists in Salvador or South Africa...
...The fervor of the right-wing opposition against Duarte can be understood only in the light of the right's accurate understanding that the structure of the old society cannot be maintained if even the illusion of dialogue is permitted...
...apparently more concerned with the appearances of our policy than with its reality...
...The loss of this money put a serious crimp in the finances of the already-hurting right-wing alliance (most particularly the divided and weakened PCN, which lacked its past all-out military support...
...The press did not notice that the past records of the remaining ' 'moderates'' did not exactly inspire hope...
...Elections don't end things in El Salvador: they begin things...
...That policy has just been carried out in Guatemala, and was carried out in El Salvador in 1932...
...Before the elections the three main parties held these in about equal thirds, and the right had expected to Commonweal: 270 win more than 200...
...Compulsory voting was ended...
...Although the meeting at La Palma was only a gesture, and one followed by very little action, the power of the oligarchy and the right in El Salvador, like that of all such systems, is based largely on perception...
...Some "realists" like Edward Luttwak suggest that "the United States can permit the Salvadorans to prevail by using their traditional methods which simply entail killing as many people as they can until there are no guerrillas left" (Harper's, April 1985...
...Each force, government and revolutionary, is composed of several groups which themselves are in desperate competition, a competition marked by violence, corruption, and chicanery...
...Some of the responsibility for this rests upon the Democrats and the Congress: concerned primarily with American nonintervention...
...The March 31 election led to an astonishing Christian Democratic sweep...
...If the Reaganites had been making American policy toward Costa Rica in 1948, one wonders if they would have supported the dictatorial government against the Social Democratic revolution...
...In El Salvador, they do things differently...
...Terry Lynn Karl explains Christian Democratic policy as based upon an alliance with the army, trying to wean it from its connection with the oligarchy, and then making an approach to the left...
...Defense Minister Vides Casanova, who headed the "moderate" faction, was generally known to be protecting his cousin, said to have overseen the murder of the American nuns...
...But the American press has persisted in treating each election as a referendum on the guerrillas...
...Yet who would say that the goals of humanity and of American policy are not better served by the Social Democratic governments of Felipe Gonzalez and Mario Soares...
...This policy failed in El Salvador in the early 1980s, but events in 1984 demonstrated that the situation was stalemated and offered an opportunity to reopen the question of a peaceful settlement...
...Obviously the voters dragooned to the polls in earlier elections had been more likely to go right than left...
...At the same time, however, leftist violence in the cities was becoming more frequent and successful...
...underestimating the links between forces in Cuba, Nicaragua, and El Salvador...
...Each time a flurry of articles in the New York Times and other publications hastened to explain that the results amounted to a defeat for the guerrillas...
...Leslie Gelb and Richard Betts: "true optimism is rooted in the analysis of a problem...
...The Reagan administration has substituted a "big lie" technique ("totalitarian Nicaragua, democratic El Salvador") for any attempt at real explanation of the choices and issues facing American policy...
...D'Aubuisson's links with those believed to have murdered American nuns and labor advisers and Salvadoran archbishops had not previously seemed to excite administration protest...
...THE FEELING THAT the PDC would lose seats was shared by almost all commentators, pointing to an ineffective incumbency, the loss of American financial support, the change in the electoral laws, and the inability of Duarte to satisfy the demands of his own constituency...
...This may have marked an important shift in American policy...
...3 May 1985: 271...
...On May 18, 1984 General Vernon Walters flew into El Salvador for a private meeting with Pickering, D'Aubuisson, and D'Aubuisson aide Francisco' 'Chico'' Guirola, reportedly to explain to him that the U.S...
...In early January, D' Aubuisson boasted that the right was going to win a sweeping majority, enough to override vetoes...
...Ironically, however, the shrewdest blow against the right wing may have been struck by the American government: the February 6 arrest of "Chico" Guirola at the Kleberg County Airport in Texas with $5.9 million in cash packed in six suitcases...
...After the 1982 Assembly elections, he lost his office altogether to a candidate picked by the army and the U.S...
...And it is clear that guerrilla sympathizers, who voted this time, voted for the PDC...
...Their percentage of the vote, estimated at 54 percent, was 13 percent over that in the 1982 Assembly elections, 10 percent higher than their returns in the first presidential elections, and matched that in the 1984 runoff against D'Aubuisson...
...The administration has substituted wishful thinking for optimism...
...Besotted by right-wing ideologies about "private development" which are then applied to gun-toting drug-running killers with more connections to feudal aristocracy and Nazism than to capitalist entrepreneurs or industrializers, the New Right spends its energies against figures like Duarte, who with all his faults is the only hope for a peaceful solution to this war...
...This program involved heavy subsidies for both the PDC and the old military oligarchic National Conciliation Party (PCN), not to mention for the election process itself...
...Finally, the idea of negotiations was very popular...
...Jose Napoleon Duarte was all-too-powerless as provisional president...
...Apparently the Reaganites have now adopted in reverse that old Communist principle, "what's ours is ours, what's yours we share...
...hopes, "a conservative victory would encourage Salvadoran rightists to pursue parliamentary and democratic tactics and thus wean some of them away from violence...
...The election has put the United States in a position to make the difference...
...Central to the resulting ideas on democratization was the conception of democracy as a step-by-step process, depending on pacts between opposing forces, and upon a recognition by all forces that none could rule a country by itself...
...The 54 percent of the vote for the PDC actually reflected a number of votes equal to those it received in 1982 and the first 1984 elections, while ARENA'S vote fell by a quarter and PCN's by two-thirds...
...As Terry Lynn Karl has pointed out in a first-rate article for World Policy ("After La Palma: The Prospects for Democratization in El Salvador," Spring 1985), the Christian Democratic policy in El Salvador has been based not only on Salvadoran experiences, but on the experiences of their Christian Democratic compatriots in bringing democracy to Venezuela in 1957-58 and in allowing Chilean democracy to collapse in 1970-73...
...but the PCN's vote collapsed to a mere 8 percent...
...This time, the same sources had written before the election that the U.S...
...Unfortunately, Washington is not prepared to take advantage of the opportunity opened by the Salvadoran people...
...The decay of the PCN had been going on for years, but now with the army apparently neutral (in part because everyone thought the right would win) and without Guirola's money, that party's vote collapsed...
...government would be displeased if he murdered the U.S...
...Not only Duarte's 1984 election but also his success in winning a vast increase of aid for El Salvador from the American Congress and from Europeans gave him more clout than he had ever had before, certainly more influence than he had as provisional president from 1980-82...
...just because Communist plotting is not the only or even the main reason for events in Central America does not mean that it does not exist...
...The American press treated these changes as a major victory against the right in the army...
...Guillermo Ungo of the FDR told American television that ' 'the elections were good for Duarte and good for us...
...As one administration figure put it, ' "The two main alternatives outright military intervention or a political solution are both unacceptable, but there's no agreement on what else to do...
...Top CIA analysts like John Horton are forced from office because they won't write reports to suit Reaganite ideology...
...Ricardo Aristides Cienfuegos, the press spokesman for the armed forces, and General Jose Alberto Medrano, the long-time boss of the dreaded ORDEN, were killed...
...Or they might have been just another way station on the road to disaster...
...Sigifredo Ochoa, whose refusal to obey orders had brought down General Guillermo Garcia in 1983, was brought back from overseas and placed in charge of Chalatenango province on September 3, 1984...
...In this country, Senator Jesse Helms simply wrote President Reagan protesting the support given to Duarte by American Ambassador Thomas Pickering...
...Whether by hypocrisy or bullying, the Reaganites seem unwilling not only to risk coalition-building in El Salvador, but even at home...
...But all these sectors are now more than ever dependent upon the United States...
...The ability of left-wing cadres to penetrate the cities suggested that some networks decimated by the slaughter at the beginning of the decade were being rebuilt...
...ARENA immediately challenged the results to the right-wing dominated election commission...
...Lieutenant Colonel Domingo Monterrosa according to the New York Times, the "most-admired fighter in the army," at the time the guerrillas killed him was the man who had perpetrated the bloodiest 3 May 1985: 269 massacre of the war, the El Mazote in December 1981...
...five of the sixty Assembly members elected in 1982 were dead by 1984, and in March 1985 alone Lt...
...Some of the most notorious extreme-right officers (including Nicolas Carranza of the Treasury Police) were transferred out of the country, and the infamous S-2 section of the Treasury Police was disbanded...
...The response of leftists to these changes was two-fold: either to deny that they had happened or to suggest that they were the result of the lack of anyone left to kill...
...Wishful thinking springs from something inside the observer rather than from the problem...
...IT WAS in this situation that last fall Duarte surprised both his American and army allies by suddenly proposing talks at La Palma with the FDR-FMLN...
...One wonders what election result would have been treated as a victory for the guerrillas, or, for example, what election results or procedures in Nicaragua would not have been treated as a defeat for that government...
...Duarte's veto of these bills was canceled by the Supreme Court controlled by the right...
...In past elections the high turnout (whether real or "arranged") was treated as a defeat for the guerrillas...
...Any analysis of who is "winning" this war must extend beyond "our side" and "their side" to the allimportant question of which actor on which side...
...ARENA'S vote share did not drop too much, about one percentage point to 29 percent...
...Everyone who does not agree with the administration is "naive" in believing that it is possible to have an accommodation between the various forces in El Salvador...
...A coherent policy requires agreement between Congress and the executive, but a real agreement is further away than ever...
...But the drift on the government side changed direction in JIM CHAPIN, a former national director of the Democratic Socialists of America, is the Chair of World Hunger Year...
...ambassador...
...The overall vote dropped substantially, from a reported 1.4 or 1.5 million in the three earlier elections to less than a million...
...The need to win congressional support for American policy eventually drew the Reagan administration to throw its support into a multi-million dollar effort to keep D'Aubuisson and his semi-fascist ARENA party out of power...
...The Christian Democratic victory deprives the right of the governmental foothold it has held since 1982, reducing it back to the (hardly insignificant) power of the army, the oligarchy, and the death squads...
...1984...
...THE opportunity to break the stalemate in El Salvador now exists, but the stalemate in Washington continues...
...The right felt double-crossed by their American allies...
...and in some cases unwilling to face the grisly nature arid behavior of some of the groups involved in the Salvadoran revolution...
...Parties were allowed to run separately with their emblems but still have their votes considered together (allowing ARENA and the PCN to run a joint slate...
...Just because Reagan exaggerates those links does not mean that there are none...
...The Christian Democrats won an estimated 33 of the 60 Assembly seats, and more than 200 of the 262 municipalities...
...At least according to a widely credited account D'Aubuisson and his friends decided to murder the Ambassador...
...The money appeared to be drawn from drug and gunrunning transactions, and was apparently intended to finance the right-wing alliance in the elections (see The New Republic, "Inside Dope in El Salvador," by Craig Pyes and Laurie Becklund, April 15,1985...
...AFTER THE SALVADORAN ELECTIONS A time to be realistic JIM CHAPIN THE MARCH 31 elections in El Salvador might have been a turning point in Salvadoran history, the moment at which the long travail of that small nation began to come to an end...
...But the army and the executive committee of the PCN both supported the election results...
...Unable to back the slaughter some of them would like, and unwilling to take the risks of political accommodation, the Reaganites have been willing to blame their own failings on other actors...
...The fact remains, there are many more than two "sides" in this war...
...The right-wing majority in the Assembly changed the rules for the 1985 Assembly and municipal elections...
...The guerrilla offensive at the end of 1983 and beginning of 1984 showed that the Salvadoran army was in bad shape...
...Although Duarte's victory in the presidential elections meant that he could staff most of the executive branch with PDC people, the right-wing majority in the Assembly killed the shreds of land reform, appointed D'Aubuisson's personal lawyer as Attorney General, and stacked the election commission and the Supreme Court with its own members...
...Even in the incredible circumstances of El Salvador, one poll showed that 51 percent of the population answered in favor of a dialogue to end the war (the FDR-FMLN position) while only 10 percent wanted the war to be carried on to victory...
...At the same time, some "right-wingers" were brought back...
...The right's reaction to La Palma was not moderate: Pedro Rene Yanes, head of the Presidential Commission on Ethics, was murdered by an ARENA member...
...Nevertheless, there had been a sharp reduction in death squad activities since Duarte resumed power: Elliott Abrams claimed that they were down to forty-six deaths a month by the end of the year in "democratic" El Salvador (the same report attributed six deaths in 1984 to the "totalitarian" Nicaraguans...
...Modern El Salvador, however, is more developed, the country cannot be quelled by its own military unless the United States is willing to back it...
...Much more of the responsibility rests, however, with the Reagan administration, itself like the Salvadoran government in uneasy stalemate between center and right- wfng forces...
...Voting had to take place in voters' hometowns...
...was hoping to See the right wing rather than the Christian Democratic Party (PDC) win...
...Yet if they continue to entertain fantasies of victories to be won without direct American intervention, to imagine they can drive their nails with sponges of rhetoric, then they will have missed the great opportunity which the people have just given them...
...It has tried to bully those who differ from its policies rather than to reason with them...

Vol. 112 • May 1985 • No. 9


 
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