El Salvador Gropes for Peace

November 03, 1992

The closer El Salvador edges toward a genuine peace, the greater is the danger of violence from har dliners in the armed forces who are motivated by personal fear, bombastic notions of honor and a reluctance to give up their traditional top perch in the power pyramid.

Having for so long operated as an independent force, answerable to no one for the most obvious atrocities, the military finds it difficult to accept the harsh fact that it is no more the winner of the 12-year civil war than is the left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front. After all the bloodletting, the conflict is essentially a draw that will take a long time to be sorted out.

As deadlines for the United Nations peace plan come and go, El Salvador is a scene of increasing tension. But despite the hoarding of arms by FMLN rebels and new threats from right-wing death squads, armies on both sides have already been reduced by a third and the government has begun to distribute land to peasants. Still required by the U.N. agreement are a purge of the high command, recognition of the FMLN as a political party and reform of judicial and political institutions to replace oligarchic rule with a popular democracy.

The Bush administration, having replaced the Reagan era drive for military victory over the left insurgency by a willingness to seek a negotiated settlement, needs to keep the pressure on all sides -- but especially the armed forces. Top officers, both the good ones and the bad ones, are the product of U.S. training and indoctrination. Since they are partly a U.S. creation, their conversion into an institution that accepts civilian rule and civilized standards is as important as the elimination of FMLN elements whose only mission seems to be one of interminable conflict.

With the collapse of the Soviet empire, Marxist insurgents have already lost any prospect for outside help. Now the military needs to understand U.S. material support is at an end unless it complies with the U.N. peace settlement.

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