Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 167 | Junio 1995


El Salvador

Glory and the Shame Of the Peace Accords

Salvadorans expect much from the peace accords, but three years after their signing, disappointment is evident on all sides. There is growing awareness that the democratic spaces opened up by the peace process can be maintained only if the culture of participation grows throughout the society.

Juan Hernández Pico, SJ

The presence of the United Nations verification mission in El Salvador (ONUSAL) ended April 30. With its withdrawal, human rights follow up, legal advice on the drafting of legislation, support for the training of new police graduates and investigation into cases of criminality and disrespect for human rights also ended. Above all, intermediation ended between the signers of the 1992 peace accords.

The UN will maintain a presence in the country until October 31 through MINUSAL, a small office set up to verify the accords. But the transition to democracy, a crucial stage in the country's history, will depend much more than before on the political will of the signers.

ONUSAL's Contribution: Undeniably Decisive

Ever since the agreement to respect human rights was signed in July 1990, huge efforts have been made to assure compliance, and ONUSAL's contribution to this has been undeniable. The fact that both combat forces in the war retreated to their designated areas and the FMLN disarmed, all without breaking the cease fire, merits highlighting, as does ONUSAL's enormous diplomatic agility and stubbornness in helping push past the countless impasses, particularly on the government's part, in the rhythm of compliance.

ONUSAL's work has been decisive in many areas. One was its assistance to the academic preparation of the Civil National Police and its ongoing investigation to assure that it not become militarized or its balance be broken, above all at the top command level. Another is the advice it gave COPAZ on drafting legislation for the agreed upon reforms to the country's legal structure. Then there was the support and follow up it provided to the Truth Commission's recommendations and its participation in the Joint Group to investigate the death squads. And neither least nor last, since many other contributions could also be mentioned, was its presence in conflictive situations to prevent violent outbreaks between divergent social forces.

The most fundamental of ONUSAL's defects is related to the presence of a weak director, Colombian Augusto Ramírez Ocampo, during the electoral period. In that period, ONUSAL was no more astute than the Supreme Electoral Tribunal and failed to discover the technical deficiencies and the fraud inherent in both them and the rest of the electoral system in time. Nor were its reports on respect or disrespect for human rights without errors.

The government itself accuses ONUSAL of having ingenuously certified the FMLN's "disarmament," later belied by the discovery of sizable caches of guerrilla weapons.

The nearly one thousand observers that ONUSAL deployed in 1992 have now dwindled down to eight executives and a few dozen support technicians in MINUSAL. Venezuelan diplomat Enrique ter Horst, ONUSAL's third director and a person of exceptional qualities, remains at the helm of MINUSAL.

But the key loss in the transition from ONUSAL to MINUSAL is not quantitative. It is that some of the department heads will not continue in their positions. The effectiveness of their past advisory work in the pending points of compliance very much requires that continuity.

No Good Moment To Leave

ONUSAL's departure has coincided with extremely difficult negotiations to set new deadlines for what has yet to be fulfilled in the peace accords. The human settlement program is bogged down even before having begun to put out legal roots. The land transfer program is afflicted with numerous delays, as are the civil reinsertion programs, among them the compensation to those with war disabilities.

The commitment to a Civil National Police with a national security mode that respects human rights and guarantees civilian liberties while effectively defending the law is volatile. The structure of the Human Rights Attorney General's Office is fragile, since monitoring respect for human rights falls to it.
Also unstable and incomplete is the reform of the administration of justice. It has sidestepped following up the clues offered by the Truth Commission and the Joint Group to dismantle the death squads. The logistical and procedural improvements to the electoral law are also still pending.

Yet another new calendar for fulfilling the peace accords was signed May 3, in a formal ceremony in the Hotel El Salvador attended by President Calderón Sol and Ter Horst. This new set of deadlines will be reviewed again before October 31.

The Human Settlement Program to consolidate the "re populations" caused by refugee repatriation or the relocation of displaced families has stagnated due to a lack of consensus. It seems, however, that evicting already settled groupings of thousands of individuals, such as in Ciudad Segundo Montes, risks sparking very serious conflicts.

The Land Transfer Program no longer has financing problems, but is being subjected to unpredictable incidents. Some of ARENA's most hard-line and inflexible reactionaries are hunkered down in the Land Bank, which has the power to put major hurdles in the program's way.

The Civil National Police is still without internal regulations. At issue here are, among other things, the level of demilitarization and the balance of forces in the upper ranks.

The Supreme Court of Justice is slowly carrying out a purge of judges. In the justices' view, this should also be extended to administrative personnel so impunity can be frontally attacked alongside improving the investigative capacity of the police.

The setting of new deadlines has not touched on reactivating the Socioeconomic Forum, partly because divisions among the union leadership have hobbled the necessary pressure.

What Do the Polls Say?

The "shame" of the accords is that public opinion sees more failures in them than achievements. A survey done at the end of January by IUDOP, an institute of the Central American University, found that 36.4% see it that way, while 33% have the opposite view, and 20.2% consider the failures and successes neck and neck. Only one achievement was stressed (by 52.9%): peace as the end of war. And even it was mentioned far more by the wealthier sectors (69%) than by the poor (49%). Only 13.5% of those polled see any other achievements, with specific mention given to greater respect for human rights, demilitarization, more jobs, more freedom and the creation of the Civil National Police.

When it came to concrete failures, 27% emphasized crime that is, the persistence of violence and 22% non compliance in general. Only 8% named the economic situation. Of the remainder, nearly half feel that their economic situation has not changed with the accords while the other half is split down the middle (24.3% each) between those who feel it is better and those who feel it is worse.

Almost 42% perceive job possibilities as worse since the accords, while 32% see no change. In general, 45.3% say the country's main problem is crime, while nearly 40% believe it is the bad road the economy is on.

The majority of Salvadorans from all sectors hold that the cause of the recent strikes and demonstrations can be found in the failure to comply with the accords (35.3%) or the economic crisis (31.8%). Bad government administration trails as a third cause at 14.2%. Almost two thirds (62.8%), however, blame the government one way or another for these conflicts.

People expected a lot from peace, and now, three years after the accords, disillusionment is widespread. The "glory" of the peace accords the spaces opened up for democracy can only be consolidated if a culture of participation takes hold and grows, and if the struggle within civil society to make the majority's interests prevail is not disparaged as fragmenting, subversive or antisocial.

Awareness may possibly be growing in El Salvador that democratization can only go forward if it is pushed by a socially, culturally and politically active population. The generalized rejection of the repression against the demonstration of war disabled at the end of March buttresses the argument of analysts such as Hector Dada that "democracy given as a present is a covert dictatorship." Dada also underscores the challenge that ONUSAL's departure implies for Salvadorans.

Death Penalty

The proposal of ARENA's legislative bench to reform the Constitution by reintroducing the death penalty must be analyzed in this context. As shown above, Salvadoran public opinion still sees crime as the major problem. In a separate opinion sounding by the Technological University of El Salvador, 65% of those surveyed favor the death penalty. This appears to be an emotional reaction to the persistence of criminal violence. ARENA, already thinking about the 1997 legislative and municipal elections, is climbing on this bandwagon.

Two rounds of voting in consecutive legislative sessions of the National Assembly are needed to pass any constitutional reform. The first round, which would take place now, only needs a simple majority 43 votes out of a total of 84 deputies. The second round, which would take place in the legislature that begins May 1, 1997, requires a two thirds majority (56 votes).

The daily newspaper La Prensa Gráfica polled the deputies on April 20. On the issue of the death penalty, 44 of those who responded said they would vote in favor 1 more than the minimum needed in the first round. The great bulk of the yes votes came from the ARENA bench (all but 1 of its 39 deputies). The other 6 were sprinkled among the 4 parties that make up the center right to far right half of the spectrum, and were minority positions in almost all cases. In addition, only 6 ARENA deputies and 1 from the Christian Democratic Party opined that the death penalty would halt crime, while all the other 75 who responded said it would not be sufficient to do so.

Assuming that ARENA puts the issue to a vote and wins, and assuming that crime continues to be perceived by the population as the main problem, it is not hard to imagine an electoral campaign revolving around ARENA as interested in the population's security and the FMLN and other opposition as not. ARENA could also win again because Salvadorans have less distrust of its current administration than of the opposition parties today. The poll results showed that 38.4% had no distrust of the government and 32.1% only felt a little distrust, while 53.5% do not trust the opposition parties at all and 28% only trust them a little. In addition, campaigns are now run via the mass media, and 34.6% of the Salvadorans polled say they have some confidence in the media while another 25% say they have a lot.

Kill Criminals? The Church's Opinion

The diocesan administrator of San Salvador, Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chávez, has come out strongly against the death penalty. His great concern is the emergence of criminal groups that define themselves as "social cleansers," such as "The Black Shadow." Just since January, 18 deaths in the eastern zone of the country have been attributed to this group, and it has threatened to carry out executions in poor neighborhoods of Santa Tecla and San Salvador.

The shameless admission by these groups that they have lists of supposed "criminals," as well as their use of weapons of war in the executions suggest the death squads's typical profile: privileged access to the intelligence services and military experience.

The only really effective way to combat common crime is by fighting against the population's growing poverty. On the other hand, organized crime, which is involved in drug traffic, the shipment of stolen cars, counterfeit money and the like, can only be combated with a police force and judicial system that are not corrupt. Another effective way to fight both forms of crime would be to put far stronger restrictions on arms possession.

Bishop Revelo of Santa Fe, president of the Bishops' Conference, made his position clear in a visit to the National Assembly. "As a bishop," he said, "I am in favor of life and completely against the death penalty. I believe that nobody with five senses could think that the death penalty will stop crime. It has not had positive results against crime anywhere in the world. What should be done is reeducation, the promotion of moral principles toward society and an effective criminal rehabilitation program."
The Jesuits issued a communiqué regarding the death penalty during Easter Week, in which they argue that a more effective way to fight crime is to "invest adequately in crime prevention, police security systems, judicial system reforms and attention to and follow up with juvenile delinquents." They add that "turning to the death penalty as a solution to crime, without having met the above mentioned requisites, is equivalent to turning to death squads to fight subversion." The Jesuits also pointed out that as Christians they are followers of Jesus, who was unjustly condemned to death, yet they never requested and never will request the death penalty for those who gave the order to kill their Jesuit brothers, even though some of those who covered up those and many other assassinations of innocent people now back the reintroduction of the death penalty.

New Archbishop Named

The naming of Fernando Sáenz Lacalle, previously auxiliary bishop of Santa Ana and military vicar, as archbishop of San Salvador was announced on April 21. His appointment is history making, since none of his predecessors ever belonged to a secular institute or was born outside of El Salvador. The new archbishop is a member of Opus Dei and was born in Spain 63 years ago; he became a naturalized Salvadoran citizen when he was 33.
The three last archbishops Chávez, Romero and Rivera y Damas had to deal with the Salvadoran Church's renewal in the spirit of Vatican II and Medellín. All three experienced the harsh reaction of many members of the upper class and the army when they focused the archdiocesan pastoral around the preferential option for the poor. From their faith, all three also had to deal with the fracturing of Salvadoran society due to the growing differences between the ever wealthier few and the ever more impoverished many.

Romero and Rivera also went through the drama of the assassination martyrdom of many pastoral agents, both priests and religious workers. They were not only at the center of historic events, as archbishops in these small Central American countries traditionally are, but from that center they called for the unity of faith from their hearts, from their profound compassion for the multitudes. All three were close to their collaborators, accessible and tolerant, yet demanding of saintly Christian attitudes through their words and own examples. The people loved them because they were committed to the people, visiting them in their poor rural districts or urban neighborhoods and making themselves worthy of trust.

Where Does Saénz Stand?

Fernando Sáenz Lacalle is within this tradition, though his style will obviously be his own and different. The new archbishop has insisted that the Bishops' Conference, not he, will have to comment on the country as a whole. Nonetheless, his first week of declarations has inevitably shown that he will not find it easy to go unnoticed. Immediately after his appointment he was invited onto one of the most listened to daily television interview programs. All the media highlighted the opinions he offered there as contrasting with some of those of his predecessors.

Here are several of those opinions:
* The death penalty "is the legislators' problem; it cannot be said that all countries that have the death penalty are violating human rights."
* "I declare myself incompetent to discuss these [political] affairs. The serious political problems have their religious projection. In this case I do declare myself competent."
* "There are quite a lot of Catholics and each Catholic has the right to be political. But the ecclesial structure is not called upon, to say the very least, to make policy. Thus, as pastor of the Archdiocese, my arms are open to all politicians of all parties."
* "Christianity is a theology of liberation. In a society in which everyone fulfills the Ten Commandments, there is no injustice, there is solidarity, and therefore all problems are solved. That is the true theology of liberation bonded by Jesus Christ our Lord. For some years the false theory of liberation spread, which turns out to be a rereading of the gospel in a Marxist key with recourse to violence."
* "The poor are all in need and, above all, the sinners are the most in need of salvation."
* "I am not fomenting any shift; rather I will continue with the task that Monsignor Rivera has undertaken. The diocese organized by Monsignor Rivera needs to be moved forward."
The church of San Salvador and of the entire country, especially its great impoverished majorities, is the difficult challenge now in the hands of the new archbishop.

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