SAN SALVADOR – The Salvadoran government and the former Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, or FMLN rebel group, now the country’s main opposition party, marked Jan. 16 as the 16th anniversary of the peace accords that ended the 1980-1992 civil war with vastly different appraisals of how faithfully those pacts have been implemented.
President Tony Saca said the last 16 years have been “very positive” for El Salvador. “If the historic decision was to end the war and build a future of peace and tranquility, we can consider ourselves satisfied,” the right-wing president told reporters after swearing in new Foreign Minister Marisol Arguetas.
“Not only did the bullets end, not only did the destruction end, but reconciliation arrived, democracy arrived and participation arrived,” Saca said, as the “product of the decision by all to maintain a climate of freedom.”
The peace accords, negotiated with the help from U.N. mediators, were signed Jan. 16, 1992, in Mexico City by then-President Alfredo Cristiani and the commanders of the FMLN.
Independent organizations say El Salvador’s 12-year civil war left more than 75,000 dead, 8,000 missing and 12,000 seriously injured. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced, and many of them fled their homeland permanently for the United States.
After offering his own upbeat take on the success of the peace process, Saca complained last week that FMLN lawmakers “have not collaborated on anything” with his administration, which took office in June 2004.
Of the five FMLN commanders who signed the 1992 treaties, only Congressman Salvador Sanchez Ceren remains a member of the party.
While long-time chief Schafik Handal died of a heart attack in 2006, Francisco Jovel, Joaquin Villalobos and Ferman Cienfuegos all left the organization over political differences.
“Though the armed conflict was surmounted with success, in the course of these years the hope for peace, democracy, and respect for human rights, prosperity and social reconciliation has been increasingly frustrated,” Sanchez Ceren said this week in a statement.
He said that “successive Arenero (referring to the ruling ARENA party) governments impeded the course of the changes demanded” by the Salvadoran people.
ARENA, which was founded by the late Maj. Roberto d’Aubuisson, a death-squad leader believed to have ordered the 1980 assassination of San Salvador Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, has been in power since the late 1980s.
The FMLN commemorated the peace accords last week with a rally at the Christ of Peace monument on the highway linking the capital to Comalapa International Airport. Around 48% of Salvadorans live below the poverty line and the gap between rich and poor has widened since 1991, according to statistics from the U.S. Agency for International Development.
USAID said that in 2002, the poorest fifth of El Salvador’s population held only 2.8% of the nation’s wealth.
Another pressing problem here is crime, with preliminary figures from the National Police showing that 2007 ended with a total of 3,476 murders, or an average of 9.52 killings per day.
The 2007 edition of Latinobarometro, a respected regional survey of public opinion, found that El Salvador was one of four Latin American nations where public support for democracy was below 40%.