Academic journal article Harvard International Review

El Salvador Can Shine Again: A Microcosm of Latin American Transformations

Academic journal article Harvard International Review

El Salvador Can Shine Again: A Microcosm of Latin American Transformations

Article excerpt

The success of the Salvadoran Peace Accords of 1992 surprised the world. What was the key to crafting a lasting peace?


I think the crucial factor in the Peace Accords was also the most controversial one. It refers to the fact that El Salvador did not experience a civil war. That interpretation is a partial reading that does not truly capture what happened in El Salvador.

The truth is that the Soviet Union, through Cuba, decided to take over the weak throat of Central America during the Cold War. To do so, Cuba counted on funding, logistical resources, and weapons [from the Soviet Union], and the United States decided to stop Soviet expansionism in Central America during the start of the 1980s.

So what happens is that El Salvador, mainly due to President Reagan's actions, is the last theater of the Cold War. And the war in El Salvador is linked to the decisions of the Soviet Union and the United States.

The same applies to the Peace Accords. When the Berlin Wall fell, the Salvadoran guerrillas decided to enter peace negotiations. Why? Because the source of logistic resources and weapons had dried up.

The Peace Accords are very valuable for El Salvador in the sense that they were a creative exercise through which Salvadoran institutions were redesigned. We had two main objectives: persuading guerrilleros to abandon weapons and embrace politics, and persuading the military to abandon politics and embrace weapons. And we achieved them both.

That democratic package is very valuable, but one must not forget that the historical trigger in El Salvador was the Cold War.

Does this mean that the guerrillas did not represent the opinions and perspectives of an ample segment of the population? Did they not have considerable support among Salvadorans?

El Salvador was, like the other Central American countries, governed by a military dictatorship that started in 1932 and fell, due to this Cold War crisis, in 1979. This means that El Salvador endured 47 years of abuse and authoritarianism. So of course, there was a very important portion of the population that said, "this situation will only change through the use of force." So in that sense, the call to arms is legitimized.

Now, when the guerrillas decide to implement the "final offensive," which was an effort to take control of the capital city, they assumed that they had popular support, and that when they reached the capital the people would rise up and support them. They hid organized piles of AK-47 weapons in different points of the city so that the people could take them and join the insurrection. What happened? The residents of the poorest neighborhoods decided to support the army instead, leaking information and helping them. I think this event indicates that the guerrillas did not have the popular support they claimed to have. The fact is that, in democracy, in free elections, the Salvadoran guerrillas have never been able to win a presidential election with one of its members.

In recent years, there have been important tensions both within and among many of the key institutions that emerged from the civil war and the Peace Accords. For example, your party experienced a split in 2010. What is the source of these tensions?

These tensions are due to the fact the new government has not respected the independence of the institutions and has attempted to take control over them. For example, the government attempted to crush and rebel against the rulings of the Supreme Court. The entire country, through its civil society, mobilized in support of Magistrate Dr. Belarmino Jaime to protect the independence of the Court. That is the source of the tensions.

Do these tensions represent a particular moment for the country, or a more permanent democratic slump?

El Salvador has experienced an important democratic slump. During these past few years, I would say that Salvadoran institutions have become less independent than they once were. …

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