The Salvador Option (Part 4)
El Salvador Today
June 25, 2007
As I've tried to point last the past few weeks, any attempt to characterize the U.S. counterinsurgency effort in El Salvador as a "success" requires a very limited definition of that word. By all accounts, the best the Salvadoran government could achieve, despite a decade of military and non-lethal aid totaling over $6 billion, was a stalemate with the leftist guerillas, and the sadism and corruption of both the officer corps and the government as a whole prevented the counterinsurgency from capturing the "hearts and minds" of the populace.
But even if the Reagan policy didn't achieve "victory" in El Salvador, isn't it true the situation there has improved dramatically, as Vice President Cheney, former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, former Undersecretary of Defense Wolfowitz, and others have stated? With peace and stability, internationally-monitored free elections, and a demilitarized judicial apparatus, cannot El Salvador be credibly described as "a whale of a lot better" now?
Consider the following:
The old political system was based on corruption, privilege, and brutality, and such things do not just evaporate, even in the welcome light of peace and free elections. As we know from worldwide exampleSerbia, Ulster, Palestine, Thailand, Somalia, Afghanistan and, yes, El Salvador and Iraqtoday's paramilitary force is tomorrow's Mafia. And so-called free elections can often mask extreme imbalances of power, which voters feel helpless to change.
Meanwhile, almost a third of the population of El Salvador has emigrated to other countries, primarily the United States. The migration wave continues today, estimated by some observers at seven hundred persons per day. These expatriates now send back to their less fortunate family members remittances (remesas) of nearly three billion dollars per year. If the country were reliably secure and prosperous, with wealth distributed reasonably among its people, it would no longer need this foreign cash machine. But the most significant form of voting in El Salvador is done with one's feet: If one can leave, one does.
Those who have stayed behind have become increasingly frustrated. The unwavering grip that ARENA has on powerwith conspicuous assistance from Washingtonreminds many of the oligarchy's brutal control prior to the civil war. Organized protests have turned increasingly violent, and many fear the country is once again coming apart at the seams.
On July 5, 2006, student protests against bus fare increases resulted in gunfire, with two police officers killed and ten wounded. President Tony Saca blamed the FMLN before any credible evidence was available (and subsequently retreated from this position). The FMLN responded by condemning the violence. As it turned out, a gunman caught on tape was identified as an expelled party member, now belonging to a splinter group calling itself the Limón Brigade.
Beatrice Alamanni de Carillo, the Human Rights Ombudsman, remarked, "We have to admit that a new revolutionary fringe is forming. It's an open secret."
Gregorio Rosa Chávez, the auxiliary bishop of San Salvador, stated, "We signed the treaty but we never lived the peace. Reconciliation is not just based on healing wounds, but healing them well . . . . People are losing faith in the institutions."
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