Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Hope in El Salvador El Salvadorans from Both Left and Right Are Ready to End the War, and Demilitarize. but Can They Overcome Their Fear of the Military?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Hope in El Salvador El Salvadorans from Both Left and Right Are Ready to End the War, and Demilitarize. but Can They Overcome Their Fear of the Military?

Article excerpt

FOR the first time during the 10 year civil war in my country, elections are taking place, as are negotiations between the government and guerrillas. With international support, these March 15 legislative and municipal elections could take us closer to peace.

It seems impossible to many outside of El Salvador that elections could make a difference. The war drags on interminably; the UN-mediated negotiations seem to make little progress; the military can still repress with impunity as the unresolved Jesuit murder case demonstrates; and past elections have served to bolster a counterinsurgency strategy instead of promoting real democratization, reform, and peace.

But beneath this depressing similarity with the past, important changes have begun to create a new electoral context. For the first time in Salvadoran history the idea of demilitarizing society has become a legitimate issue of public debate and not simply a cause celebre of the left. Formerly divided labor unions and peasant organizations of the left and center are increasingly united in pushing not simply for labor rights but for a negotiated solution to the war. Many businessmen now realize a negotiated peace is essential for economic recovery. An official private sector delegation has had the first meeting ever with the guerrillas.

Perhaps more importantly, neither side in the war believes they can achieve military victory. Some sectors of the armed forces are realizing that the goose is no longer willing to lay the golden eggs of military aid. Already the congressionally mandated military aid cutback has strengthened those in the military that favor a settlement at the bargaining table.

In this context, elections could make a difference. The far right in the ruling Arena party sees these elections as a way to block the peace process.

The Arena led coalition which now controls the National Assembly is strongly influenced by the most extremist elements of the party under former major Roberto D`Aubuisson. He plans to use elections to strengthen his position against President Alfredo Cristiani who represents the more pragmatic wing of the party. D`Aubuisson has used the party machinery to nominate the most recalcitrant party members as candidates in the March election. If Arena gains a majority in March, D'Aubuisson plans to use it to block reforms and restrain Cristiani from negotiating seriously.

Opposition forces - the Christian Democrats, the parties of the Democratic Convergence (which includes mine), and two other small parties - would use a legislative majority for very different purposes. The National Assembly chooses the Supreme Court which in turn appoints El Salvador's judges. …

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