El Salvador: Contradictions of Neoliberalism and Building Sustainable Peace

Article excerpt

Sixteen years ago the Government of El Salvador and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) signed the Chapultepec Accords, which ended the nearly 12-year civil war. The peace process in El Salvador has been hailed by many as a "success" of United Nations peacebuilding efforts. The cessation of armed conflict, the restructuring of military and police forces, the demobilization and integration of the FMLN as a political party, and basic guarantees for human rights have been the most important outcomes of the Salvadoran peace process. The role of international actors in the negotiation and implementation phases of the peace process in El Salvador is well-documented. While numerous international actors participated in the Salvadoran peace process, particular emphasis has been given to the role of the United Nations as the mediator of the negotiations. The success of the United Nations mediation and verification through the United Nations Observer Mission in El Salvador (ONUSAL) has been considered one of the organization's finest examples of peacebuilding in recent years. Indeed, many have attempted to replicate the success of El Salvador in other cases of civil conflict--most with significantly less success.

Yet little more than fifteen years later the country is at a major crossroads. El Salvador now appears to be a questionable model for peacebuilding, as it represents the very real challenges of an incomplete peace. Social violence and poverty have diminished the realities of peace for most Salvadorans. The orthodox application of neoliberal policies has created little opportunity, and Salvadorans are leaving in record numbers in search of opportunities elsewhere--their remittances sustaining the country's fragile economy. Government corruption and party polarization impede meaningful democracy and public opinion of democratic institutions is at an all time low. All of this begs the question: what went wrong in El Salvador?

This paper seeks to investigate this question by demonstrating the negative impact of neoliberal reforms on the post-accord prospects for peace in El Salvador. Peacebuilding has been undermined by the failure to address socio-economic inequalities, which has resulted in significant increases in emigration, crime and authoritarianism. I would also suggest that elite culture remained unchanged through the peace process, and that successive ARENA (Nationalist Republican Alliance) governments lacked sufficient political will to subvert their interests to the public good. This prioritization of interests of the economic elite, as represented by ARENA, over a commitment to the socioeconomic aspects of peacebuilding, threatens prospects for a sustainable peace.

Peacebuilding and Neoliberalism

El Salvador was one of the United Nations' first efforts at peacebuilding. According to former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali the goal of peacebuilding is more than the mere cessation of conflict. Instead, peacebuilding seeks to address the root causes of conflict in order to prevent any reversion to armed violence (Boutros Boutros-Ghali, 1992: 32). The resulting literature on peacebuilding has increasingly emphasized that success is predicated on moving beyond the mere absence of war (negative peace) and towards a more just, stable and reconciled society (positive peace). Since the early 1990s peacebuilding efforts have focused on attaining peace through liberal democratic reforms, or sustainable peace through democratization and the establishment of rule of law. This model, however, has come under increasing criticism for ignoring the realities of post-conflict societies and ignoring and/or exacerbating the root causes of conflict (See Jeong, 2005). As such, our criteria for measuring success in peacebuilding has, until recently, often been a reflection of our understanding of the limited goals of liberal peace processes. As noted by Hampson (1996), measuring success in peacebuilding is highly problematic and leads to the dilemma of "infinite regress" (Hampson, 1996; 9). …