Tet in Salvador


Tet in Salvador

The Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton once wrote that his country was afflicted with "cancers, peels, dandruffs, crud, sores, fractures, shakes, stenches." That was before the United States got involved; $4 billion in U.S. aid has turned El Salvador into hell. Since the government of Alfredo Cristiani took office in June, what little space there was for dissent has vanished. The death squards run wild; participants in the most innocuous civic activity once more risk being dragged into the dungeons of the Treasury Police, raped, hooded with the capucha filled with quicklime. Once such things stirred passions on Capitol Hill; now Senator Christopher Dodd, who passes for the liberal conscience of the Democratic Party in such matters, says Cristiani is "our best bet" in El Salvador.

This latest pattern of outrages escalated on October 31 with the bombing of the Fenastras union offices, which moved Assistatn Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Bernard Aronson to hop on a plant to San Salvador to ask the far right to cool it. The answer came that same night when Salvadoran troops murdered two organizers of the center-left Popular Social Christian Movement. Army to Aronson: Take a hike. Smarter than its paymasters, the army knows that human rights scruples no longer impede the flow of dollars.

The guerrillas of the F.M.L.N. responded to the Fenastras bombing by breaking off peace talks with the government and by launching, on November 11, their largest offensive of the ten-year war. Whatever its outcome, the offensive was an extraordinary show of force, involving great risks, and its goal seems to have been, at a minimum, to force the government back to the negotiating table, acknowledging once and for all that no settlement will be possible without the rebels' acquiescence.

The logic of this war has never varies. The only result of building a "shield for democracy" -- as the Kissinger commission termed it in 1984 -- has been to subordinate all civilian authority to the military thugs. "Where is Chistiani? Who's running the country?" the rebels ask repeatedly over Radio Venceremos. Even if we grant that he represents a business class sick of war because it interferes with making profits, the fact is that Cristiani has no more room for independent action than his predecessor, Jose Napoleon Duarte.

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