By Robert Graham
The chances for peace in El Salvador are closer than ever before according to Dr Gorka Garate, a leading aid and development worker from El Salvador.
Speaking at a public meeting in Fremantle, Garate said that the recent agreements reached between the ARENA government and the rebel Farabundo Martí National Liberation front (FMLN) at UN—-sponsored talks in New York have been "a victory for the FMLN in many ways".
If the agreements become reality, the FMLN's struggle will continue, but without the use of arms. Grate sees "political space" opening up in which the people can organise and express themselves politically without fear of repression.
According to Garate, the "greatest loser" in the agreements has been the army, which must now undergo a process of "purification". The UN is seeking to establish a special commission to investigate the human rights record of every single army official, to determine whether they should be allowed to continue to serve.
Both sides have also agreed to substantially diminish their military forces, with the army being reduced from its present level of 60,000 to approximately 8000 to 10,000.
A Commission of Peace (COPAZ) will be established to follow up the agreements. The commission will be made up of two government officials (one from the army), two from the FMLN and one from each of the political parties represented in the National Assembly.
Garate expressed confidence that the agreements would be implemented. He noted that the US government, the Salvadoran army's main supplier, had had a "change of attitude" towards El Salvador.
The US now seems to realise that it has nothing to gain in continuing to support the civil war in El Salvador. According to Garate, Washington is seeking political stability in Central America and wants "no more noise" from a country which holds little economic significance.
The future for the FMLN, Garate said, lies in building a new political party to fight the 1994 elections and in building coalitions between all opposition parties to isolate ARENA. He predicted that the popular organisations will continue to grow as the political space widens.
"A new El Salvador needs to find a new economic system which belongs to the people", Garate said. "The capitalist system is not able to meet the needs and aspirations of our people." But he warned against "copying" other models. "Recent history has taught us that you cannot impose a system on people. A permanent dialogue between the political parties and the grassroots popular organisations will be needed to develop a society in which the people have both political and economic power."