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|Salvadoran Civil War|
|Part of the Central American crisis|
A reminder of one of many massacres that occurred during the Civil War in El Salvador, Central America
|Salvadorian military government|| FMLN (CRM)|
|Commanders and leaders|
| Roberto D'Aubuisson|
José Guillermo García
José Napoleón Duarte
| Schafik Handal|
Salvador Sánchez Cerén
|9.850 (1980)||12.000-15.000 (1984)|
|Casualties and losses|
|7,000 dead||20,000 dead|
|70,000–80,000 (total dead); 8,000 disappeared; 550,000 internally displaced and 500,000 refugees in other countries|
|Salvadoran Civil War|
|Part of the Central American crisis|
A reminder of one of many massacres that occurred during the Civil War in El Salvador, Central America
|Salvadorian military government|| FMLN (CRM)|
|Commanders and leaders|
| Roberto D'Aubuisson|
José Guillermo García
José Napoleón Duarte
| Schafik Handal|
Salvador Sánchez Cerén
|9.850 (1980)||12.000-15.000 (1984)|
|Casualties and losses|
|7,000 dead||20,000 dead|
|70,000–80,000 (total dead); 8,000 disappeared; 550,000 internally displaced and 500,000 refugees in other countries|
The Salvadoran Civil War (1979–1992) was a conflict between the military-led government of El Salvador and the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), a coalition or 'umbrella organization' of five left-wing guerrilla groups. A coup on October 15, 1979 led to the killings of anti-coup protesters by the government as well as anti-disorder protesters by the guerillas, and is widely seen as the tipping point towards the civil war.
By January 1980, the left-wing political organizations united to form the CRM (Coordinated Revolutionaries of the Masses) and a few months later the left-wing armed groups united to form the DRU (Unified Revolutionary Directorate) which, following its merging with the Communist party in October 1980, was renamed the FMLN.
The full-fledged civil war lasted for over twelve years, and saw extreme violence from both sides. It also included the deliberate terrorizing and targeting of civilians by death squads, the recruitment of child soldiers, and other violations of human rights, mostly by the United States backed military. The United States contributed to the conflict by providing large amounts of military aid to the government of El Salvador during the Carter and Reagan administrations despite significant opposition from the American public. An unknown number of people "disappeared" during the conflict and the UN reports that more than 75,000 were killed.
In 1990, the UN began peace negotiations and on January 16, 1992, a final agreement, The Chapultepec Peace Agreement, was signed by the combatants in Mexico City, formally ending the conflict.
El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America. As in many nations of Latin America, the history of El Salvador has been characterized by marked socioeconomic inequality. In the late 19th century, coffee became a major cash crop for El Salvador, bringing in approximately 95% of the country's income. However, this income was restricted to only 2% of the population, sharply dividing the people between a small powerful elite and an impoverished majority. Socioeconomic tension grew through the 1920s, and were compounded by a drop in coffee prices following the stock-market crash of 1929. In 1932 the Central American Socialist Party was formed and led an uprising of peasants and indigenous people against the government. The government brutally suppressed it in what became known as the 1932 Salvadoran peasant massacre or simply "La Matanza" (the Massacre), with the military murdering between 10,000 and 40,000 Indians. Farabundo Martí, the leader of the uprising, was eventually arrested and put to death, and the military subsequently took power over the country. "La Matanza" also served to reinforce feelings of strong distrust and animosity among the populace towards the government, the military and the landed elite.
On July 14, 1969, an armed conflict erupted between El Salvador and Honduras over immigration disputes caused by Honduran land reform laws. The conflict (known as the Football War) lasted only four days, but had major long term effects for Salvadoran society. Trade was disrupted between El Salvador and Honduras, causing tremendous economic damage to both nations. An estimated 300,000 Salvadorans were displaced due to battle, many of whom were exiled from Honduras; in many cases, the Salvadoran government could not meet their needs. The Football War also strengthened the power of the military in El Salvador, leading to heightened corruption. In the years following the war, the government increased military spending and expanded purchases of weaponry from sources such as Israel, Brazil, West Germany, and the United States in an attempt to modernize the Salvadoran army. 
The 1973 oil crisis had led to rising food prices and decreased agricultural output. This worsened the existent socioeconomic inequality in the country, leading to increased unrest. In response, President Arturo Armando Molina enacted a series of land reform measures, calling for large landholdings to be redistributed among the peasant population. The reforms failed, thanks to opposition from the landed elite, reinforcing the widespread discontent with the government.
On 20 February 1977, General Carlos Humberto Romero, representing the National Conciliation Party (PCN), defeated the Revolutionary Party of Democratic Unification in elections marred by blatant fraud and voter intimidation by government-sponsored paramilitary forces. The period between the election and the formal inauguration of President Romero on 1 July 1977 was characterized by massive protests from the popular movement, which were met by state repression. On 28 February 1977, a crowd of political demonstrators gathered in downtown San Salvador to protest the electoral fraud. Security forces arrived on the scene and opened fire, resulting in a massacre as they indiscriminately killed demonstrators and bystanders alike. Estimates of the number of civilians killed range between 200 and 1,500. President Molina blamed the protests on "foreign Communists," and immediately exiled a number of top UNO party members from the country.
Repression continued after the inauguration of President Romero, as the government implemented state-of-siege declarations, the suspension of civil liberties and systematic use of torture, death squads, forced disappearance and extrajudicial killing against the opposition. Government forces regularly abducted, tortured and killed civilian opponents of the government. Socorro Jurídico Cristiano (Christian Legal Assistance, a legal aid office within the Archbishop's office and El Salvador's leading human rights group at the time) documented the killings of 687 civilians by government forces in 1978. In 1979, the number of documented killings increased to 1,796. The repression prompted many in the Catholic Church to denounce the government; The government responded by repressing the clergy.
With tensions mounting and the country on the verge of an insurrection, the civil-military Revolutionary Government Junta (JRG) deposed President General Carlos Humberto Romero in a coup on October 15, 1979. The United States viewed the coup as a fortuitous event, given the recent overthrow of the Somoza regime in Nicaragua, and embraced the junta with large offers of military and economic aid: in 1980 alone, the United States allocated $5.7 million to the Salvadoran military, in order to prevent at all costs "another Nicaragua." Wishing to project a populist image, the JRG enacted some nominal land reform, which restricted landholdings to a hundred-hectare maximum, nationalised the banking, coffee, and sugar industries, scheduled elections for February 1982, and disbanded the paramilitary private death squad ORDEN on November 6, 1979. However, these measures encountered strong resistance from the military and the wealthy elite, who succeeded in virtually stalling their implementation. This triggered increased protests from the left, demanding that the government address the concerns of the marginalized.
All three civilian members of the junta resigned on January 3, 1980, along with 10 of the 11 cabinet ministers. On January 22, 1980, the Salvadoran National Guard attacked a massive peaceful demonstration, killing up to 50 people and wounding hundreds more. On February 6, US ambassador Frank Devine informed the State Department that the extreme right was arming itself and preparing for a confrontation in which it clearly expected to ally itself with the military. José Napoleón Duarte became a member of the junta soon after, on March 9, 1980, which led to an intensification of death squad activities and government repression.
In February 1980 Archbishop Óscar Romero published an open letter to US President Jimmy Carter in which he pleaded with him to suspend the United States' ongoing program of military aid to the Salvadoran regime. He advised Carter that "Political power is in the hands of the armed forces. They know only how to repress the people and defend the interests of the Salvadoran oligarchy." Romero warned that US support would only "sharpen the injustice and repression against the organizations of the people which repeatedly have been struggling to gain respect for their fundamental human rights." On 24 March 1980, the Archbishop was assassinated while giving a mass, the day after he called upon Salvadoran soldiers and security force members to not follow their orders to kill Salvadoran civilians. At his funeral a week later, government-sponsored snipers in the National Palace and on the periphery of the Gerardo Barrios Plaza were responsible for the shooting of forty-two mourners.
On 7 May 1980, former Army Major Roberto D'Aubuisson was arrested with a group of civilians and soldiers at a farm. The raiders found documents connecting him and the civilians as organizers and financiers of the death squad who killed Archbishop Romero, and of plotting a coup d’état against the JRG. Their arrest provoked right-wing terrorist threats and institutional pressures forcing the JRG to release D’Aubuisson. In 1993, a U.N. investigation confirmed that D'Aubuisson ordered the assassination.
In addition to repression and violence in cities, rural violence began to escalate. A week after the arrest of Roberto D'Aubuisson, the National Guard and the newly reorganized paramilitary Organización Nacional Democrática (ORDEN), with the cooperation of the Military of Honduras, carried out a large massacre at the Sumpul River on May 14, 1980, in which an estimated 600 civilians were killed, mostly women and children. Escaping villagers were prevented from crossing the river by the Honduran armed forces, "and then killed by Salvadorian troops who fired on them in cold blood." Over the course of 1980, the Salvadoran Army and three main security forces (National Guard, National Police and Treasury Police) were estimated to have killed 11,895 people, mostly peasants, trade unionists, teachers, students, journalists, human rights advocates, priests, and other prominent demographics among the popular movement. Human rights organizations judged the Salvadoran government to have among the worst human rights records in the hemisphere.
The US Bureau of Affairs later justified American aid, stating: "The immediate goal of the Salvadoran army and security forces—and of the United States in 1980, was to prevent a takeover by the leftist-led guerrillas and their allied political organizations. At this point in the Salvadoran conflict the latter were much more important than the former. The military resources of the rebels were extremely limited and their greatest strength, by far, lay not in force of arms but in their "mass organizations" made up of labor unions, student and peasant organizations that could be mobilized by the thousands in El Salvador's major cities and could shut down the country through strikes." Critics of US military aid charged that "it would legitimate what has become dictatorial violence and that political power in El Salvador lay with old-line military leaders in government positions who practice a policy of 'reform with repression.'" A prominent Catholic spokesman insisted that "any military aid you send to El Salvador ends up in the hands of the military and paramilitary rightest groups who are themselves at the root of the problems of the country."
On December 2, 1980, the Salvadoran National Guard raped and murdered four American nuns and a laywoman. Maryknoll missionary nuns Maura Clarke, Ita Ford, and Ursuline nun Dorothy Kazel, and laywoman Jean Donovan were on a Catholic relief mission providing food, shelter, transport, medical care, and burial to death squad victims. U.S. military aid was briefly cutoff in response to the murders, but would be renewed within six weeks.
As government-sanctioned violence increased, previously non-militant political groups metamorphosed into guerrilla forces. In May 1980, the Salvadoran revolutionary leadership met in Havana, forming a consolidated politico-military command, which soon morphed into the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) honoring insurgent hero Farabundo Martí, killed by the National Guard in 1932. The FMLN immediately announced plans for an insurrection against the government, which began on 10 January 1981 with the FMLN's first major attack. The attack established FMLN control of most of Morazán and Chalatenango departments for the war's duration. Attacks were launched on military targets throughout the country, leaving hundreds of people dead.
After the onset of the offensive, United States Operational Planning and Assistance Teams (OPATs) took over the training of the Salvadoran armed forces, logistics procedures, and Command and Control planning. At the Salvadoran High Command, U.S. military advisers prosecuted the war operationally and with intelligence. In addition, the outgoing Carter administration increased military aid to the Salvadoran armed forces to $10 million which included $5 million in rifles, ammunition, grenades and helicopters. In justifying these arms shipments, the administration claimed that the regime had taken "positive steps" to investigate the murder of four American nuns but this was disputed by US Ambassador, Robert E. White, who said that he could find no evidence the junta was "conducting a serious investigation."
During the same month, the JRG strengthened the state of siege, imposed by President Carlos Humberto Romero in May 1979, by declaring martial law and adopting a new set of curfew regulations. Between January 12 and February 19, 1981, 168 persons were killed by the security forces for violating curfew.
In its effort to defeat the insurgency, the Salvadoran Armed Forces carried out a "scorched earth" strategy adopting tactics similar to those being employed by the counterinsurgency in neighboring Guatemala. These tactics where primarily derived and adapted from U.S. strategy during the Vietnam War, and taught by American military advisors. An integral part of the Salvadoran Army's counterinsurgency strategy entailed "draining the sea" or "drying up the ocean," that is, eliminating the insurgency by eradicating its support base in the countryside. The primary target was the civilian population – displacing them in order to remove any possible base of support for the rebels. The concept of "draining the sea" had its basis in a doctrine by Mao Zedong which emphasized that "The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea." Aryeh Neier, the executive director of Americas Watch wrote in a review of 1984: "This may be an effective strategy for winning the war. It is, however, a strategy that involves the use of terror tactics — bombings, strafings, shellings and, occasionally, massacres of civilians." Beginning in 1983, guerrilla strongholds were found by U.S. reconnaissance planes that relayed intelligence to the Salvadoran military.
The repression in rural areas resulted in the displacement of large portions of the rural populace, and many peasants fled. Of those who fled or were displaced, some 20,000 resided in makeshift refugee centers on the Honduran border in conditions of poverty, starvation and disease. The army and death squads forced many of them to flee to the United States but most were denied asylum. On January 17–18, 1981, a US congressional delegation visited the refugee camps in El Salvador on a fact finding mission and submitted a report to Congress. The delegation concluded that "the Salvadoran method of 'drying up the ocean' is to eliminate entire villages from the map, to isolate the guerrillas, and deny them any rural base off which they can feed."
The government's systematic use of terror-tactics and violent repression against the civilian population escalated through 1981. Sources estimate that the army and security forces killed 16,000 civilians in total over the course of that year. In its report covering 1981, Amnesty International identified "regular security and military units as responsible for widespread torture, mutilation and killings of noncombatant civilians from all sectors of Salvadoran society." The report also stated that the killing of civilians by state security forces became increasingly systematic with the implementation of more methodical killing strategies, which allegedly included use of a meat packing plant to dispose of human remains. Between August 20 and August 25, 1981, eighty-three decapitations were reported. The murders were later revealed to have been carried out by a death squad using a guillotine.
In late 1981, the Atlacatl Battalion, organized in 1980 at the US Army School of the Americas in Panama, was deployed in the Morazán Department in the northeastern part of the country, a major stronghold for the FMLN. On December 11, 1981, the Atlacatl Battalion occupied the village of El Mozote and massacred at least 733 and possibly up to 1,000 unarmed civilians in what became known as the El Mozote Massacre. The Atlacatl soldiers accused the adults of collaborating with the guerrillas. The field commander said they were under orders to kill everyone, including the children, who he asserted would just grow up to become guerrillas if they let them live. "We were going to make an example of these people," he said. Despite having been initially denied by the Reagan Administration, details became more widely known and the event became recognized as one of the worst atrocities of the conflict.
In 1982, the FMLN began calling for a peace settlement that would establish a "government of broad participation." The Reagan administration said they wanted to create a Communist dictatorship. Elections were interrupted with right-wing paramilitary attacks and FMLN-suggested boycotts. El Salvador's National Federation of Lawyers, which represented all of the country's bar associations, refused to participate in drafting the 1982 electoral law. The lawyers said that the elections couldn't possibly be free and fair during a state of siege that suspended all basic rights and freedoms. The News-Gazette, the country's English-language conservative newspaper supported the national bar association's stand.
Pursuant with measures put in place by the JRG on October 18, 1979, elections for an interim government were held on April 29, 1982. The Legislative Assembly voted on three candidates nominated by the armed forces, Álvaro Alfredo Magaña Borja, leader of the moderate Democratic Action and thus effectively politically independent, was elected by 36 votes to 17, ahead of the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) and Party of National Conciliation candidates. Roberto D'Aubuisson accused Jaime Abdul Gutiérrez Avendaño of imposing on the Assembly "his personal decision to put Álvaro Alfredo Magaña Borja in the presidency" in spite of a "categorical no" from the ARENA deputies. Magana was sworn into office on 2 May. Decree No. 6 of the National Assembly suspended phase III of the implementation of the agrarian reform, and was itself later amended. The Apaneca Pact was signed on 3 August 1982, establishing a Government of National Unity, whose objectives were peace, democratization, human rights, economic recovery, security and a strengthened international position. An attempt was made to form a transitional Government which would establish a democratic system. Lack of agreement among the forces that made up the Government and the pressures of the armed conflict prevented any substantive changes from being made during Magaña's Presidency.
The activities of the insurgency continued during the period of interim government, as did government repression. The FMLN attacked the Ilopango Air Force Base, destroying six of the Air Forces 14 Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopters, five of its 18 Dassault Ouragan aircraft and three C-47s. The guerrillas stepped up their activities against economic targets. Between February and April, a total of 439 acts of sabotage were reported. The number of acts of sabotage involving explosives or arson rose to 782 between January and September. The United States Embassy estimated the damage to the economic infrastructure at US$98 million. FMLN also carried out large-scale operations in the capital city and temporarily occupied urban centres in the country's interior. According to some reports, the number of rebels ranged between 4,000 and 5,000; other sources put the number at between 6,000 and 9,000.
Systemic and widespread human rights violations by the Salvadoran military and security forces continued at high levels during the period of interim government. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reported that on May 24, 1982, a clandestine cemetery containing the corpses of 150 disappeared persons was discovered near Puerta del Diablo, Panchimalco, approximately twelve kilometers from San Salvador. On June 10, 1982, almost 4,000 Salvadoran troops carried out a "cleanup" operation in the rebel-controlled Chalatenango province. Over 600 civilians were reportedly massacred during the Army sweep. The Salvadoran field commander acknowledged that an unknown number of civilian rebel sympathizers or "masas" were killed, while declaring the operation a success. 19 days later, the Army massacred 27 unarmed civilians during house raids in a San Salvador neighborhood. The woman were raped and murdered. Everyone was dragged from their homes into the street and then executed. "The operation was a success," said the Salvadoran Defense Ministry communique. "This action was a result of training and professionalization of our officers and soldiers."
During 1982 and 1983, government forces killed approximately 8,000 civilians a year. Although the figure is substantially less than the figures reported by human rights groups in 1980 and 1981, targeted executions as well as indiscriminate killings nonetheless remained an integral policy of the army and internal security forces, part of what Professor William Stanley of the University of New Mexico has described as a “strategy of mass murder” designed to terrorize the civilian population as well as opponents of the government. General Adolfo Blandón, the Salvadoran armed forces chief of staff during much of the 1980s, has stated, "Before 1983, we never took prisoners of war." 
In March 1983, Marianella Garcia Villas, president of the Non-Governmental Human Rights Commission of El Salvador, was captured by army troops on the Guazapa volcano, and later tortured to death. Garcia Villas had been on Guazapa collecting evidence about the possible army use of white phosphorus munitions. In April 1983, Melida Anaya Montes, a leader of the Popular Forces for Liberation (FPL) "Farabundo Marti", was murdered in Managua, Nicaragua. Salvador Cayetano Carpio, her superior in the FPL was allegedly implicated in her murder. He committed suicide in Managua shortly after Anaya Montes' murder. Their deaths influenced the course within the FMLN of the FPL's Prolonged Popular War strategy.
By January 1984, Americas Watch observed that the human rights situation was "as bad as ever" and that "the principal reason that those abuses continue at such a high rate at a point when — one would guess — the armed forces should have run out of politically suspect persons to murder is that the murders instill terror. Terror is the means whereby the armed forces maintain their authority."
On February 7, 1984, nine labor leaders, including all seven top officials of one major federation, were arrested by the Salvadoran National Police and sent to a military court. The arrests were part of Duarte's moves to crackdown on labor unions after more than 80 trade unionists were detained in a raid by the National Police. The police confiscated the union's files and took videotape mugshots of each union member. During a 15-day interrogation, the nine labor leaders were beaten during late night questioning and were told to confess to being guerrillas. They were then forced to sign a written confession while blindfolded. They were never charged with being guerrillas but the official police statement said they were accused of planning to "present demands to management for higher wages and benefits and promoting strikes, which destabilize the economy." A U.S. official said the embassy had "followed the arrests closely and was satisfied that the correct procedures were followed."
In February, U.S. military advisers instructed the Salvadoran Air Force to intensify bombing raids in conflictive and rebel-held zones. The Air Force was aided by new U.S. reconnaissance flights that supply it with improved intelligence. In April, the Roman Catholic Church's human rights office, the Tute-la Legal, said the number of civilians killed during military missions rose from 195 in February to more than 300 in March. Maria Julia Hernandez, the director of the office, noted a sudden increase in bombing accuracy since the new U.S. reconnaissance flights began in February. She suggested the Air Force was using intelligence derived from U.S. reconnaissance to attack civilians suspected of being rebel sympathizers.
Also in April, residents and displaced people from the Cuscatlan and Cabanas provinces said the Salvadoran Air Force had increased indiscriminate bombing raids and that the attacks had become much more accurate in recent weeks. "They used to bomb and it wouldn't land near to the houses, but now they have something to detect exactly where we are," a displaced person from Guazapa said. "No one is safe in their homes, no one is safe anywhere." "Towns such as El Zapote, El Corozal, Tres Cevas, Palo Grande, and Mirandilla no longer exist," another woman contended. Chris Hedges, a correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor who was at one village in the area, said it resembled a ghost town and that every home appeared to have been bombed and strafed by machine-gun fire. Those who escaped said that leaving the free fire zones was just as dangerous. "When we fled," said one woman whose children and husband were killed in a bombing attack, "the Army was not on the road, so we survived. If they see you coming down from the volcano, they will kill you." The Air Force reportedly used incendiary bombs such as Napalm and white phosphorus to burn villages to the ground and charr large tracts of land before Army sweeps.
In the preceding months, the Salvadoran military had used the Red Cross's humanitarian activities to locate and attack displaced people who gathered at clinics to receive medical assistance and food. The United States Embassy and the Salvadoran government argued that most of the civilians killed were rebel sympathizers (masas). Although, the practice was later terminated by U.S. advisers after protests by Americas Watch.
In 1984, the U.S. Embassy had characterized the civilians residing in FMLN zones as "masas," a term that originated with the guerrillas. According to the Embassy, these masas were "something other than innocent civilian bystanders" because it said they provided "logistical support" for the guerrillas and "mingled" with them. As best the Americas Watch could determine, the "logistical support" consisted principally in maintaining their traditional subsistence farming, thereby providing themselves and the guerrillas with a source of food. "Mingling" consisted principally in trying to remain in or near their original communities and not joining the vast refugee and displaced person populations. Accordingly, Americas Watch criticized the Embassy's stand. We said that calling these civilians "something other than innocent civilian bystanders" implied they were legitimate targets for attack. Moreover, Salvadoran and U.S. officials continue to attempt to justify attacks on civilians.
— Americas Watch, 1985
In 1984 elections, Christian Democrat José Napoleón Duarte won the presidency (with 54% of the votes) against Army Major Roberto d’Aubuisson, of the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA). The elections were held under military rule amidst high levels of repression and violence, however, and candidates to the left of Duarte's brand of Christian Democrats were excluded from participating. Fearful of a d’Aubuisson presidency for public relations purposes, the CIA financed Duarte's campaign with some two million dollars.
After President José Napoleon Duarte's election in 1984, human rights abuses at the hands of the army and security forces continued, but declined due to modifications made to the security structures. The policies of the Duarte government attempted to make the country's three security forces more accountable to the government by placing them under the direct supervision of a Vice Minister of Defense, but all three forces continued to be commanded individually by regular army officers, which, given the command structure within the government, served to effectively nullify any of the accountability provisions. The Duarte government also failed to decommission personnel within the security structures that had been involved in gross human rights abuses, instead simply dispersing them to posts in other regions of the country.
While reforms were being made to the security forces, the army continued to massacre unarmed civilians in the country side. An Americas Watch report noted that the Atlacatl Battalion killed 80 unarmed civilians in Cabanas in July, 1984 and carried out another massacre one month later, killing 50 displaced people in the Chalatenango province. The woman were raped and then everyone was systematically executed.
Through 1984 and 1985, the Salvadoran Armed Forces enacted a series of "civic-action" programs in Chalatenango province. This consisted of the establishment of "citizen defense committees" to guard plantations and businesses against attacks by insurgents and the establishment of a number of free-fire zones. These measures were implemented under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Sigifredo Ochoa Perez, a former director of the Treasury Police and political ally of Major Roberto d'Aubuisson who had previously been exiled to the US Army War College for mutiny. By January 1985 Ochoa's forces had established 12 free-fire zones in Chalatenango in which any inhabitants unidentified by the army were deemed to be insurgents. Ochoa stated in an interview that areas within the free fire zone were susceptible to indiscriminate bombings by the Salvadoran Air Force. Ochoa referred to this strategy as the "Israeli Solution," as it was adapted from Israeli strategy employed in South Lebanon. Ochoa's forces were implicated in a massacre of about 40 civilians in an Army sweep through one of the free fire zones in August 1985. Ochoa refused to permit the Red Cross to enter these areas to deliver humanitarian aid to the victims. Ochoa's forces reportedly uprooted some 1,400 civilian rebel supporters with mortar fire between September and November 1984.
By 1985, military repression had succeeded in disarticulating most of the trade unions and mass political organizations. Many of the survivors from within these organizations were forced to flee the country or join the rebels. A national opinion poll conducted in 1986 by the Catholic University showed that 10% of the population believed that the country was advancing to democracy; 28% said conditions had improved but that repression continued; 45% thought there was no significant change; and 18% believed freedom and democracy were diminishing. In February 1986, tens of thousands of Salvadorans marched through the streets of San Salvador to protest Duarte's economic Austerity plan. The economic package included a currency devaluation, increases in gas prices, import taxes, import restrictions and a few price freezes on basic goods. The Austerity measures were designed by U.S. economic advisers who warned American aid might be withheld if the programs were not implemented.
During the Central American Peace Accords in 1987, the FMLN demanded that all death squads be disbanded and the members be held accountable. In October 1987, the Salvadoran Assembly approved an amnesty for civil-war related crimes. The Amnesty law required the release of all prisoners suspected of being guerrillas and guerrilla sympathizers. Pursuant with these laws, 400 political prisoners were released. Insurgents were given a period of fifteen days to turn themselves over to the security forces in exchange for amnesty. Despite amnesty being granted to guerillas and political prisoners, amnesty was also granted to members of the army, security forces and paramilitary who were involved in human rights abuses.
Overall levels of state repression began to escalate again following the 1987 amnesty, reaching levels comparable to the pre-1985 period. As had occurred in the 1970s, the 1988 elections were followed by escalated government violence, as part of a deliberate campaign to terrorize voters and influence election results. An Amnesty International report published in October 1988 titled, El Salvador Death Squads: A Government Strategy, concluded that "Forces involved include all branches of the Salvadorian security apparatus, including the navy, air force and army and the security services, --- including the National Guard, the National Police and the Treasury Police. Personnel from these units have carried out torture and extrajudicial execution and have been responsible for "disappearances" - both while in uniform and in plain clothes. The death squad style is to operate in secret but to leave mutilated bodies of victims as a means of terrifying the population. Victims are customarily found mutilated, decapitated, dismembered, strangled or showing marks of torture or rape." The report also concluded that clandestine paramilitary units were used so the government wouldn't take the heat for state terrorism. According to Maria Julia Hernandez, director of the Roman Catholic Church's human rights office, death squad killings always escalated when opposition activity increased and the government couldn't control it.
Angered by the results of the 1988 elections and the military's use of terror tactics and voter intimidation, the FMLN launched a major offensive with the aim of unseating the Christiani government on November 11, 1989. This offensive brought the epicenter of fighting into the wealthy suburbs of San Salvador for essentially the first time in the history of the conflict, as the FMLN began a campaign of selective assassinations against political and military officials, civil officials, and upper-class private citizens. The government retaliated with a renewed campaign of repression, primarily against activists in the democratic sector. The non-governmental Salvadoran Human Rights Commission (CDHES) counted 2,868 killings by the armed forces between May 1989 and May 1990. In addition, the CDHES stated that government paramilitary organizations illegally detained 1,916 persons and disappeared 250 during the same period. As in the early 1980s, the University of Central America fell under attack from the army and death squads. On 16 November 1989, five days after the beginning of the FMLN offensive, the Atlacatl Battalion entered the campus of the University of Central America in uniform and summarily executed six Jesuit priests—Ignacio Ellacuria, Segundo Montes, Ignacio Martin-Baro, Joaquín López y López, Juan Ramón Moreno, and Amando López—and their housekeepers (a mother and daughter, Elba Ramos and Celia Marisela Ramos). In the middle of the night, the six priests were dragged from their beds on the campus, machine gunned to death and their corpses mutilated. The mother and daughter were found shot to death in the bed they shared. The Atlacatl Battalion was reportedly under the tutelage of U.S. special forces just 48 hours before the killings. The liberation theology bishops were declared an enemy of the state for speaking out against state terror and working for the "preferential option of the poor."
By the late 1980s, 75% of the population lived in poverty. The living standards of most Salvadorans declined by 30% since 1983. Unemployment or underemployment increased to 50%. Most people, moreover, still didn't have access to clean water or healthcare. The armed forces were feared, inflation rose almost 40%, capital flight reached an estimated $1 billion, and the economic elite avoided paying taxes. Despite nearly $3 billion in American economic assistance, per capita income declined by one third. American aid was distributed to urban businesses although the impoverished majority received almost none of it. The Congressional Research Service said the "ESF [U.S. Economic Support Fund] in Central America is basically a security/military program undertaken to prop up the existing regimes and the elites who support them.." The United States had been providing most of the country's budget and underwriting almost all government policies. The concentration of wealth was even higher than before the U.S.-administered land reform program. The agrarian law generated windfall profits for the economic elite and buried the cooperatives in debts that left them incapable of competing in the capital markets. The oligarchs often took back the land from bankrupt peasants who couldn't obtain the credit necessary to pay for seeds and fertilizer. Although, "few of the poor would dream of seeking legal redress against a landlord because virtually no judge would favor a poor man." By 1989, 1% of the landowners owned 41% of the tillable land, while 60% of the rural population owned 0%.
After 10 years of war, more than one million people had been displaced out of a population of 5,389,000. 40% of the homes of newly displaced people were completely destroyed and another 25% were in need of major repairs. Death squad activities further escalated in 1990, despite a U.N. Agreement on Human Rights signed July 26 by the Cristiani government and the FMLN. In June 1990, U.S. President George Bush announced an "Enterprise for the Americas Initiative" to improve the investment climate by creating "a hemisphere-wide free trade zone."
"For the first time, all five of the countries are led by presidents who were elected in contests widely considered free and fair," the Washington Post reported from Guatemala City. It is true, the Post continues, that "conservative politicians in Central America traditionally represented the established order despite their countries' grossly distorted income patterns. But the wave of democracy that has swept the region in recent years appears to be shifting politicians' priorities," while observing that, "The new leaders...are committed to free-market economics." The Post explains, "Neither in the plan nor in the Declaration of Antigua' was there any mention of land reform or suggestion of new government social welfare programs to help the poor." Rather, they are adopting "a trickle-down approach to aid the poor." "The idea is to help the poor without threatening the basic power structure," a Central American economist observes. Archbishop Arturo Rivera y Damas said he believed President Cristiani was committed to maintaining the system, favoring neoliberal programs that had been increasing poverty.
President Bush authorized the release of $42.5 million in military aid to the Salvadoran armed forces on January 16, 1991. In late January, the Usulután offices of the Democratic Convergence, a coalition of left-of-center parties, were attacked with grenades. On February 21, a candidate for the Democratic National Unity (UDN) party and his pregnant wife were assassinated after ignoring death squad threats to leave the country or die. On the last day of the campaign, another UDN candidate was shot in her eye when Arena party gunmen opened fire on campaign activists putting up posters. Despite fraudulent elections orchestrated by Arena through voter intimidation, sabotage of polling stations by the Arena-dominated Central Elections Council and the disappearing of tens of thousands of names from the voting lists, the official U.S. observation team declared them "free and fair."
Death squad killings and disappearances remained steady throughout 1991 as well as torture, false imprisonment, and attacks on civilians by the Army and security forces. Opposition politicians and members of church and grassroots organizations representing peasants, women and repatriated refugees suffered constant death threats, arrests, surveillance and break-ins all year. The FMLN killed two wounded U.S. military advisers and carried out indiscriminate attacks, kidnappings and assassinations of civilians. The war intensified in mid-1991, as both the army and the FMLN attempted to gain the advantage in the United Nations-brokered peace talks prior to a cease-fire. Indiscriminate attacks and executions by the armed forces increased as a result. Eventually, by April 1991, negotiations resumed, resulting in a truce that successfully concluded in January 1992, bringing about the war's end. On 16 January 1992, the Chapultepec Peace Accords were signed in Chapultepec Castle, Mexico City, to bring peace to El Salvador. The Armed Forces were regulated, a civilian police force was established, the FMLN metamorphosed from a guerrilla army to a political party, and an amnesty law was legislated in 1993.
The peace process set up under the Chapultepec Accords was monitored by the United Nations from 1991 until June 1997 when it closed its special monitoring mission in El Salvador.
During the 2004 elections, White House Special Assistant Otto Reich gave a phone-in press conference at ARENA party headquarters. He reportedly said he was worried about the impact an FMLN win could have on the country's "economic, commercial, and migratory relations with the United States." In February 2004, Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega told voters to "consider what kind of a relationship they want a new administration to have with us." He met with all the candidates except Schafik Handal, the FMLN candidate. This prompted 28 US Congress members to send a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell saying Mr. Noriega "crossed a boundary" and that his remarks were perceived as "interference in Salvadoran electoral affairs." A week later, two US congressmen blasted Reich's comments as inflammatory.
At war's end, the Commission on the Truth for El Salvador registered more than 22,000 complaints of political violence in El Salvador, between January 1980 and July 1991, 60 percent about summary killing, 25 percent about kidnapping, and 20 percent about torture. These complaints attributed almost 85 percent of the violence to the Salvadoran Army and security forces alone. The Salvadoran Armed Forces were accused in 60 percent of the complaints, the security forces (i.e. the National Guard, Treasury Police and the National Police) in 25 percent, military escorts and civil defense units in 20 percent of complaints, the death squads in approximately 10 percent, and the FMLN in 5 percent. The Truth Commission could collect only a significant sample of the full number of potential complaints, having had only three months to collect it. The report concluded that more than 70,000 people were killed, many in the course of gross violation of their human rights. More than 25 per cent of the populace was displaced as refugees before the U.N. peace treaty in 1992.
The statistics presented in the Truth Commission's report are consistent with both previous and retrospective assessments by the international community and human rights monitors, which documented that the majority of the violence and repression in El Salvador was attributable to government agencies, primarily the National Guard and the Salvadoran Army. A 1984 Amnesty International report stated that that many of the 40,000 people killed in the preceding five years had been murdered by government forces, who openly dumped the mutilated corpses, in an apparent effort to terrorize the population.
Despite mostly killing peasants, the Government readily killed any opponent they suspected of sympathy with the guerrillas — clergy (men and women), church lay workers, political activists, journalists, labor unionists (leaders, rank-and-file), medical workers, liberal students and teachers, and human-rights monitors. The State's terrorism was affected by the security forces, the Army, the National Guard, and the Treasury Police; yet it was the paramilitary death squads who gave the Government plausible deniability of, and accountability for, the political killings. Typically, a death squad dressed in civilian clothes and traveled in anonymous vehicles (dark windows, blank license plates). Their terrorism comprised publishing future-victim death lists, delivering coffins to said future victims, and sending the target-person an invitation to his/her own funeral. Cynthia Arnson, a Latin American-affairs writer for Human Rights Watch, says: the objective of death-squad-terror seemed not only to eliminate opponents, but also, through torture and the gruesome disfigurement of bodies, to terrorize the population. In the mid-1980s, state terror against Salvadorans became open — indiscriminate bombing from military airplanes, planted mines, and the harassment of national and international medical personnel; all indicate that, although death rates attributable to the death squads have declined in El Salvador since 1983, non-combatant victims of the civil war have increased dramatically.
Though the violations of the FMLN accounted for five percent or less of those documented by the Truth Commission, the FMLN continuously violated the human rights of many Salvadorans and other individuals identified as right-wing supporters, military targets, pro-government politicians, intellectuals, public officials, and judges. These violations included kidnapping, bombings, rape, and killing.
In accordance with the peace agreements, the constitution was amended to prohibit the military from playing an internal security role except under extraordinary circumstances. During the period of fulfilling of the peace agreements, the Minister of Defense was General Humberto Corado Figueroa. Demobilization of Salvadoran military forces generally proceeded on schedule throughout the process. The Treasury Police and National Guard were abolished, and military intelligence functions were transferred to civilian control. By 1993 — nine months ahead of schedule — the military had cut personnel from a wartime high of 63,000 to the level of 32,000 required by the peace accords. By 1999, ESAF strength stood at less than 15,000, including uniformed and non-uniformed personnel, consisting of personnel in the army, navy, and air force. A purge of military officers accused of human rights abuses and corruption was completed in 1993 in compliance with the Ad Hoc Committee's recommendations.
The new civilian police force, created to replace the discredited public security forces, deployed its first officers in March 1993, and was present throughout the country by the end of 1994. As of 1999, the PNC had over 18,000 officers. The PNC faced many challenges in building a completely new police force. With common crime rising dramatically since the end of the war, over 500 PNC officers had been killed in the line of duty by late 1998. PNC officers also have arrested a number of their own in connection with various high-profile crimes, and a "purification" process to weed out unfit personnel from throughout the force was undertaken in late 2000.
In 1986, a major earthquake punctuated the war; and for three years fighting lessened and calls for negotiation grew within the context of the rising social movement, The National Debate for Peace; also the Human Rights Commission of El Salvador-non governmental (CDHES) published a 165-page report documenting the routine use of forty types of torture applied to political prisoners in the Mariona men's prison, and that U.S. military advisers often supervised and sometimes participated in said interrogations.
On 26 October 1987, Herbert Ernesto Anaya, head of the CDHES, was assassinated. His killing provoked four days' of political protest — during which his cadaver was displayed before the U.S. embassy and then before the Salvadoran armed forces headquarters. The National Union of Salvadoran Workers said: Those who bear sole responsibility for this crime are José Napoleón Duarte, the U.S. embassy ... and the high command of the armed forces. In its report the Commission on the Truth for El Salvador, established as part of the El Salvador peace agreement, stated that it could not establish for sure whether the death squads, the Salvadoran Army or the FMLN was responsible for Anaya's death.
Moreover, the FMLN and the Revolutionary Democratic Front (FDR) also protested Mr. Anaya's assassination by suspending negotiations with the Duarte Government on 29 October 1987. The same day, Reni Roldán resigned from the Commission of National Reconciliation, saying: The murder of Anaya, the disappearance of university labor leader Salvador Ubau, and other events do not seem to be isolated incidents. They are all part of an institutionalized pattern of conduct. Mr. Anaya's assassination evoked international indignation: the West German Government, the West German Social Democratic Party, and the French Government asked President Duarte to clarify the circumstances of the crime. United Nations Secretary General, Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, Americas Watch, Amnesty International, and other organizations protested against the assassination of the leader of the Human Rights Commission of El Salvador.
Groups seeking investigation or retribution for actions during the war have sought the involvement of other foreign courts. In 2008 the Spanish Association for Human Rights and a California organization called the Center for Justice and Accountability jointly filed a lawsuit in Spain against former President Cristiani and former defense minister Larios in the matter of the 1989 slaying of several Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter. The lawsuit accused Cristiani of a cover-up of the killings and Larios of participating in the meeting where the order to kill them was given; the groups asked the Spanish court to intervene on the principle of universal jurisdiction for crimes against humanity.
Long after the war, in a U.S. Federal Court, in the case of Ford vs. García the families of the murdered Maryknoll nuns sued the two Salvadoran generals believed responsible for the killings, but lost; the jury found Gen. Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, ex-National Guard Leader and Duarte's defense minister, and Gen. José Guillermo Garcia—defense minister from 1979 to 1984, not responsible for the killings; the families appealed and lost, and, in 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear their final appeal. A second case, against the same generals, succeeded in the same Federal Court; the three plaintiffs in Romagoza vs. García won a judgment exceeding US$54 million compensation for having been tortured by the military during El Salvador's Civil War.
The day after losing a court appeal in October, 2009, the two generals were put into deportation proceedings by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), at the urging of U.S. Senators Richard Durbin (Democrat) and Tom Coburn (Republican), according to the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA). Those deportation proceedings as of May, 2010 have been stalled, however; one of the plaintiffs in the case believes the U.S. CIA/DOD — protecting its "assets" — has stymied the Obama Justice Department, for now.
The Spanish judge who issued indictments and arrest warrants for 20 former members of the Salvadoran military, charged with murder, Crimes Against Humanity and Terrorism requested that US agencies declassify documents related to the killings of the Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter but were denied access. In his report, Judge Velasco writes:
"The agencies in charge of making the information public have identified 3,000 other documents that remain secret and are not available; the reasoning given is that privacy is needed to protect sources and methods. Many of the documents, from the CIA and the Defense Department, are not available…"
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