El Salvador in the 1980’s

El Salvador in the 1980's

At the 1992 census the population of the El Salvador was 5,047,925 units, 1,498,665 more than those recorded in the previous census, carried out twenty-one years earlier. The considerable increase recorded took place above all during the 1970s and early 1980s, at least according to more or less reliable estimates that already around 1985 indicated a number of residents not very different from today. Moreover, the annual increase since the beginning of the 1980s had fallen below 2%, while in the previous ones it had always remained, and even much, above this threshold. The capital city, San Salvador, has a population of 420,000, which rises to over a million and a half when considering the entire metropolitan area. The demographic development of other cities, such as Santa Ana.

According to itypeusa, the long civil war, which lasted until 1992, the serious consequences of the earthquake that hit San Salvador in 1986 (1500 victims), the damage caused by a series of climatically unfavorable years have made the country’s economy increasingly precarious: unemployment has reached a share of more than 40%, the external debt and the balance of payments deficit have increased enormously. Agriculture, which still occupies 36% of the active population, has seen a significant decrease in the two main export products, coffee (less than 1,500,000 q in 1992) and cotton; on the other hand, the production of corn, destined for internal consumption, has increased somewhat. Even the industry, for which El Salvador is in first place among the countries of Isthmian Central America, has experienced a long period of stagnation.

History. – The coup d’état that overthrew President CH Romero Mena in October 1979 opened a new phase in the political life of the El Salvador, after nearly fifty years of military-led governments. Promoted by reformist officials, the coup d’état installed a military and civilian junta in power that included progressive exponents, such as the leader of the social democratic MNR (Movimiento Nacional Revolucionario) G. Ungo; the opposition forces gained greater freedom of action and the leader for a few monthsChristian Democrat JN Duarte, in exile since 1972 (after the crisis following the disputed presidential elections that had seen him as a candidate), was able to return to El Salvador. However, the pressure of conservative interests soon led to a change in the addresses and composition of the junta: the rapid ousting of the progressives was accompanied by a resumption of repression and terrorist activities of the far right (in March 1980 the same archbishop of San Salvador, OA Romero y Galdámez), while the growing involvement of the PDC (Partido Demócrata Cristiano) – Duarte joined the junta in March – determined the split of its left wing, led by RI Zamora Rivas, which gave birth to the Movimiento Popular Social Cristiano (MPSC). In the following months the MNR, the MPSC, political organizations linked to the five guerrilla groups (Fuerzas Populares de Liberación, FPL; People’s Revolutionary Army, ERP; Fuerzas Armadas de Resistencia Nacional, FARN; Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores Centroamericanos, PRTC; Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación, FAL) and other smaller forces formed the Frente Democrático Revolucionario (FDR), the political arm of the unitary organization FMLN (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional), while the increasingly violent response of the armed forces and far-right paramilitary groups to the escalation of the guerrillas plunged the country into a bloody civil war. From 1981 the support of the United States for the government of the El Salvador increased, with huge economic and military aid, the training of the troops, in particular of the special anti-guerrilla units, and the sending of military advisers; at the same time, the pressures of Washington, which sought to strengthen the role of the PDC, favored the initiation of some reforms, primarily the agrarian one, and a process of transition to a civilian government. In December 1980 Duarte was appointed provisional president of the republic (the first civilian since 1931) and in March 1982 a Constituent Assembly was elected. Partido de Conciliación Nacional, party of the ruling regime between 1961 and 1979) which obtained 14 seats, was surpassed, with 19 seats, by a new far-right formation, the Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA), linked to paramilitary terrorist groups, while the remaining three seats went to two smaller conservative parties. The leader of ARENA, R. d’Aubuisson Arrieta, was elected president of the Constituent Assembly in April, but later, also following US pressure, the provisional presidency of the republic was entrusted to an independent, A. Magaña Borja; in May he gave life to a government of national unity, in which the PDC also participated. After the launch, in December 1983, of the new constitution (presidential type like the previous ones of the El Salvador, providing for the direct election of the head of state every five years and of the National Assembly every three years), the presidential elections were called in March 1984 and the legislative ones a year later: the first saw the victory of Duarte, who in the second round in May prevailed over d’Aubuisson and in June replaced Magaña as president of the republic.

The Duarte administration attempted to revive the reform program initiated in the early 1980s, but this continued to be hampered both by conservative resistance and by objective and growing economic difficulties. In fact, the 1980s saw a sharp worsening of the economic and social situation: at the end of the decade, despite a weak recovery, real income per capita it was still well below that of 1979 and the external debt, despite substantial aid from the United States, had more than doubled. Even the purposes of pacification, repeatedly manifested by Duarte, were unsuccessful and the situation remained blocked even after the Esquipulas (Guatemala City) agreements for a general pacification in Central America, signed in August 1987 by the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. The civil war meanwhile continued with violence: the army, which thanks to US aid had almost quadrupled its strength, managed to contain the initiative of the FMLN, but its recourse to indiscriminate attacks, bombings airplanes and mass deportations from areas under the control of the guerrillas heavily affected the civilian population;

From 1986, the consensus for the Duarte government dwindled rapidly, especially among the popular classes, while repeated episodes of corruption contributed to wearing down the image of the PDC. In the legislative elections of March 1988 the Christian Democrats obtained only 23 seats, against 30 for ARENA and 7 for the NCP (in May a deputy from this party passed to ARENA, allowing it to achieve an absolute majority in the National Assembly); a year later, the presidential elections saw the victory of the ARENA candidate, AF Cristiani Burkard, who in the first round, in March, won 54% of the votes, against 36% of the Christian Democrat F. Chávez Mena and 10% of the others candidates. Among the latter there was for the first time an exponent of the left, Ungo (who returned to the South. at the end of 1987, together with leader of the MPSC Zamora), candidate of a coalition (Convergencia Democrática, CD) between the MNR, the MPSC and a minor formation; the other left forces, and in the first place the FMLN, nevertheless considered the guarantees offered by the government insufficient and maintained the boycott of the elections: Ungo therefore obtained only 4% of the votes, while participation in the vote remained, as in previous consultations, just over 50% of the electorate.

Although Cristiani belonged to the moderate wing of ARENA (he still enjoyed the support of d’Aubuisson, honorary president of the party from September 1985 until his death in February 1992), the advent of the extreme right in the government caused a temporary radicalization of the conflict.: in November 1989 the FMLN launched its strongest offensive since the beginning of the civil war, occupying large areas of the capital for a few days; at the same time the army and the death squads intensified terrorist activity, up to the massacres in October (10 dead) in a trade union office and in November (8 dead) in the Universidad Centroamericana held by the Jesuits in San Salvador (among the victims was the rector himself, Father I. Ellacuría). However, starting from 1990, the evolution of the international framework and the Central American context accentuated the push towards a negotiated solution to the conflict: the end of the civil war in Nicaragua, the radical change in relations between East and West and the related relaunch of the role also at the regional level favored the opening of a peace process.

Negotiations between the government and the FMLN, under the aegis of the United Nations, were initiated in Geneva in April 1990 and, despite the continuation of the fighting, led to a gradual rapprochement between the parties. The legislative elections of March 1991 saw for the first time a suspension of the boycott by the FMLN: the left forces – CD (led by Zamora after Ungo’s death in February 1991) and a minor formation – reached 15% of the vote and in the new 84-member National Assembly they got 9 seats; ARENA, with 39 deputies, lost an absolute majority, while 26 seats went to the PDC (in decline after Duarte’s death in February 1990), 9 to the PCN and one to a Christian Democratic splinter group. In the following months, thanks also to the mediation of

At the end of the year the negotiations culminated in a peace agreement, solemnly signed on January 16, 1992 in Mexico City before the new UN Secretary General, B. Boutros-Ghali: after the ceasefire came into force, on 1 February, and a gradual demobilization of the guerrillas (accompanied by the start of a process of reduction and restructuring of the armed forces), the conflict formally ended, with an official ceremony in San Salvador, on 15 December 1992; in about twelve years it had caused more than 75,000 deaths, over a million refugees (one fifth of the total population), half of whom fled abroad, and economic damage amounting to over two billion US dollars. The end of the civil war was accompanied by a general improvement in relations with neighboring countries while a slow recovery was taking place in the meantime on the economic level, even if the heavy consequences of the conflict and the persistence of traditional imbalances continued to feed a very serious social situation; theneoliberal policy promoted by Christians (privatizations, cuts in public spending, liberalization of prices and imports, incentives for the inflow of foreign capital) met with the favor of the wealthy classes and international creditors, encouraging a resumption of private investment, but did not improve the living conditions of the population.

In addition to the social sphere, the implementation of the agreements met with strong resistance also in the military field. Started in 1992, the restructuring of the armed forces led to the halving of their staff within the following year, but the implementation of the other agreed measures was very slow and difficult, such as the formation of a civil police force, including also former guerrillas, and the purge of the military implicated in the most serious violations of human rights. After the massacre of the Jesuits in November 1989, by special anti-guerrilla units, the responsibilities of the army became evident also at the international level: despite the trial for the massacre, which took place in 1991 and ended with the condemnation of two officers to thirty years of prison, the Comisión de la verdad), the other to indicate the military who should have been purged (Comisión ad hoc). In March 1993 the report of the Comisión de la verdad was made public by Boutros-Ghali: it attributed the vast majority of the violations committed during the civil war to the army and terrorist groups linked to it, identified in the counterinsurgency techniques followed by the military the main cause of the very high number of victims and indicated some high officials (such as the Minister of Defense, General RE Ponce) among those responsible for the most serious atrocities. However, the government, in violation of the peace accords, had postponed the purge and only international pressure prevented it from being completely blocked. As for the prosecution of crimes committed during the civil war, it was definitively canceled by the amnesty law approved in March 1993 by the conservative majority of the National Assembly: a few days later, the two officers already sentenced for the November 1989 massacre were also released. However, the end of the conflict did not put an end to the activities of the death squads, which have not yet completely ceased.

Politically, the FMLN, which has pursued a rather moderate line, has quickly established itself as the main opposition force; within it, however, contrasts arose between the components most linked to the traditional Marxist inspiration and the new social democratic trends that developed in the 1990s. In the first post-war elections, which took place in spring 1994, the difficult conditions in the country, the non-compliance of the government and the delays in the implementation of the peace agreements contributed to keeping the participation in the vote at around 50%. ARENA confirmed its hegemony, and its candidate for president of the republic, A. Calderón Sol, defeated the leftist candidate Zamora in the second round in April; in the National Assembly, elected in March, ARENA kept 39 deputies, while the PDC dropped to 18, the NCP to 4 and the increase in the left was resolved all to the advantage of the FMLN, which got 21 seats compared to only one for CD. The new president, who comes from the extremist wing of the party, has reconfirmed the policy of Cristiani.

El Salvador in the 1980's