Preparation for War
The 1979 coup was a defining moment in El Salvador's history. It brought about significant changes in the economic and political order. It was the last opportunity to effect a democratic transition in the country short of civil war. And it "shook out" the sides that went on to fight the civil war, in ways that could not have been predicted prior to October 1979.
Many actors with different and contradictory motives and interests were involved in the coup or in forming or supporting the juntas that arose from it: progressive and conservative military officers, reformist politicians, businesspeople and progressive landowners, the Catholic Church, and the U.S. government.But the underlying purpose of its main organizers was to preempt leftist revolution by breaking the domination of a narrow landed oligarchy and incorporating democratic politicians and parties into a reformed political system alongside forward-looking representatives of the capitalist class. The military would play a central role in guaranteeing this transformation. U.S. intelligence documents available to policymakers in the weeks leading up to the coup defined its orientation clearly:
A coup [excised words] will take place no later than the weekend of 13-14 October 1979. [Excised words] the governments of Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Panama have already given their approval to the coup and have promised their immediate recognition of the new government which will be formed. [Excised words] the new government will be leftist during its early days, and attempt to destroy the influence of the El Salvadoran oligarchy over the government and the economy.This move will be for the purpose of allowing significant social and institutional changes which would not be possible as long as the oligarchy is allowed to exist in its present form.... The military will, however, maintain control at all times to ensure that the government will not become extreme leftist as is expected will be the case in Nicaragua. 1
CIA cables made clear that the junta would begin by attempting to win the support of leftist elements and then move to the right: