El Salvador in the Aftermath of Peace: Crime, Uncertainty, and the Transition to Democracy

El Salvador in the Aftermath of Peace: Crime, Uncertainty, and the Transition to Democracy

El Salvador in the Aftermath of Peace: Crime, Uncertainty, and the Transition to Democracy

El Salvador in the Aftermath of Peace: Crime, Uncertainty, and the Transition to Democracy

Synopsis

El Salvador's civil war, which left at least 75,000 people dead and displaced more than a million, ended in 1992. The accord between the government and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) has been lauded as a model post-Cold War peace agreement. But after the conflict stopped, crime rates shot up. The number of murder victims surpassed wartime death tolls. Those who once feared the police and the state became frustrated by their lack of action. Peace was not what Salvadorans had hoped it would be. Citizens began saying to each other, It's worse than the war. This title challenges the pronouncements of policy analysts and politicians by examining Salvadoran daily life as told by ordinary people who have limited influence or affluence.

Excerpt

Peace officially arrived in El Salvador on 16 January 1992. That day representatives of the government and the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional, FMLN) signed accords in Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City. The agreement, brokered by the United Nations, ended nearly twelve years of a civil war often characterized as one of the last battles of the Cold War. The United States had sent the country $6 billion in economic, military, and covert aid. At least 75,000 Salvadorans died in the conflict, and more than a million were displaced. Nearly 20 percent had left their country.

Postconflict policy analysts have called the Salvadoran case among the most successful peace agreements in the post-Cold War period. The ceasefire held. The FMLN became a legal political party. Military, judicial, and electoral institutions were reformed. An Office of Human Rights Counsel was established and a Truth Commission formed. Limited agrarian reform was granted.

To former guerrillas, thwarted from challenging the country’s unjust economic structure, the crucial aspect of the accords became the founding of a civilian police force trained in human rights. To financial elites in the country, the key element of the agreements was the (image of the) opening up of a clean, calm space for investment. To many social scientists, peace activists, and other observers, the most important achievement was that electoral competition prevailed over arms. Democracy, it seemed, had triumphed.

This story of the successful arrival of peace and democracy after a violent civil war has been the standard representation of El Salvador. This story is true.

Other stories circulated in the Central American country of six million in the years after the peace accords. Stories shared across kitchen tables, on street corners, on local television newscasts, and in newspapers. Many belie . . .

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