As I have been noting in this blog, January 16 marks the 15th anniversary of the signing of the Peace Accords which ended the 12 year long civil war in El Salvador. The conflict left more than 75,000, mostly civilians dead, and thousands more "disappeared." Here is my own assessment of the Peace Accords and their aftermath:
- End of a bloody conflict. The Peace Accords produced a termination of the armed conflict. The ravages of war, felt most acutely by the poor and displaced, came to an end as the FMLN laid down its arms and the armed forces returned to their barracks.
But...Many will note that violence has not ceased in El Salvador. The violence today is the violence of criminal activity spawned by hopelessness, gangs, poverty and the disintegration of Salvadoran families. Still, even the very high toll of almost 4000 murders in 2006, does not approach the deaths of 10,000 or more civilians in a single year at the height of the civil war.
- Creation of the civilian National Police (PNC). One of the major points of the Peace Accords was the creation of the PNC and the dismantling of the former internal security forces who had been implicated in serious human rights abuses. The military was limited to confronting external threats to the country.
But...the PNC has been ineffective, as shown by the very large percentage of murders and other crimes which are resolved, and recently the government has started to have the armed forces participate with the PNC in patrols of areas with high gang activity.
- Establishment of the office of Civil Rights Ombudsman (PDDH - for its initials in Spanish). Prior to the civil war, the idea of a government official whose role was to investigate and denounce human rights violations by the government would have been unimaginable. Today, Beatrice Carillo, the PDDH, is a leading critic of the government and its policies, using her position to shed light on government actions.
But...the PDDH only has the power of speech and no actual power to act on the reports she issues. Dr. Carillo continues to receive death threats.
- Reduction in levels of poverty. The number of Salvadorans living in extreme poverty has declined by at least one third from 1992 to the present. Economic activity is naturally enhanced by the absence of armed conflict in the country.
But... the improvements in poverty levels have largely leveled off since the year 2000. A large part of the reduction in poverty is tied to remittances, from Salvadorans who had fled the country to work in the US. The gap between rich and poor is not narrowing.
- Political Freedoms. One clear advance in post-war El Salvador is the absence of political violence and the transformation of the FMLN into a political party having success at the polls. The FMLN gained control of the mayor's office in many cities and has had a significant block of seats in the National Assembly. The party has performed well in presidential elections, but it has never been able to elect the president. It is now possible to engage in political protest in El Salvador and to critique the government without being targeted by death squads.
But... Some will point to the unresolved murders of the parents of Mariposa Manzanares, Gilberto Soto, and Francis and Jesus Carillo as examples of recent politically motivated murders. (While those murders are certainly troubling, it is still far from the situation leading up to and during the civil war when being politically active on the left was to paint a target on your chest.) The administration of the government still remains in the hands of ARENA, a party whose founder sponsored death squads throughout the 1990s. ARENA's control of the government and its signficantly greater access to funds allows its message to dominate the media.
You may also want to look back to my post on the 14th anniversary of the Peace Accords.