Fighting Different Wars:
Insurgent and Counterinsurgent
Strategies from the January 1981
FMLN Offensive to Mid-1984
In early October 1979 El Salvador was ruled by a military regime in alliance with a small landed oligarchy that was threatened by a growing leftist insurgency and a powerful grassroots opposition, and viewed internationally as a pariah for its gross human-rights violations.By the end of 1980, as the long-heralded FMLN offensive approached, the political, social, and military contours of El Salvador had been changed in fundamental ways.
The country was governed by a civilian-military junta that united conservative military officers with representatives of the PDC. The interests of these two groups differed greatly: The PDC emphasized reforms to regain the popular support it had lost in the previous decade and to undercut the left; the armed forces focused on military and paramilitary violence to defeat the left.But they were held together by U.S. pressure and the aid provided to hold off attacks from the left.
Significant economic reforms had been implemented giving land to thousands of peasants and taking the commanding heights of the economy out of the hands of the traditional elite. Although it was weakened, however, the economic and political power of the oligarchy was not broken. Phase 2, the major element of the agrarian reform that would have affected properties between 375 and 1,250 acres and taken over 60 percent of the coffee land, was postponed to the distant future.
Right-wing opponents of the junta and its reforms, funded by very wealthy landowners and in collusion with the military High Command, unleashed an unprecedented wave of violence against suspected leftists.Although this campaign of terror did not achieve its