Progress in El Salvador

May 02, 1994

Many Americans were shocked by Mark Danner's recent New Yorker article, now out in book form as "The Massacre at El Mozote," investigating the mass murder of Indian peasant villagers by U.S.-supported El Salvador army units in 1981, and the willful ignorance or indifference of U.S. officials. For many it was a renewed shock, as the atrocity was widely reported in 1982. This was a retelling.

These readers must prepare for a third shock, as the El Salvador presidency and national assembly have just been won in reasonably fair elections by the ideological heirs of the assassins, not the party espousing the cause of the victims.

Armando Calderon Sol of the right-wing ARENA Party has just massively and undeniably won a presidential run-off over the candidate of the left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), Ruben Zamora, who is no doubt better known and respected in this country. Salvadorans, not Americans who have interested themselves in El Salvador, got to vote.

But ARENA emerged with only 39 seats of the 84-member assembly, less than a clear majority, while the FMLN has a respectable 21. In the words of Mr. Calderon Sol, "They won a very clear political space. . ."

El Salvador is in fact living up to the U.N.-brokered peace accord of 1992 ending 12 years of civil war, which the outgoing ARENA president, Alfredo Cristiani, pushed through against the wishes of some followers. The U.S., having supported the established order against FMLN insurgency, has a stake in reconciliation. That is why when Mr. Calderon Sol, flush with election victory, held a two-hour conference with the defeated Mr. Zamora and former guerrilla leader Schaflik Handal. U.S. Ambassador Alan Flanigan joined them.

The peace of 1992 is holding. The governing party won a mandate to stay in power. It acknowledges the legitimacy of the opposition and seeks cooperation. Its program is national reconciliation, not revenge.

"The Massacre at El Mozote" is both a true and shocking story. What it does not do is prepare the reader to understand that the effort at healing -- with the help of the U.N., fair elections and the U.S. -- is under way.

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