Peace inches closer in El Salvador


On her recent visit to Australia, Nidia Diaz of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front spoke to Green Left about the course of peace negotiations in El Salvador.

What has been the outcome of the latest talks?

The extreme right wing didn't want the negotiations to get anywhere because they believe that time is against us. But despite that, the negotiations were productive, and there were agreements on constitutional reform, namely the amendment of acts regarding the armed forces and the judicial power.

We have lived for 60 years in a dictatorship. The reform subjects the armed forces to civilian control. In the constitution the armed forces appear as a fourth power not dependent on the executive power but autonomous. So taking away its power and subjecting it to civilian control is a very important step.

It was also important to set up the national civilian police. This assumes the disbanding of the rural police and the National Guard when we come to sign agreements regarding armed forces.

The other thing we hope to achieve is that arrested civilians will not have to appear before a military tribunal. Other aspects that we weren't able to deal with — for example, the banning of paramilitary organisations — will be put off until we discuss the subject of the armed forces in the next round of talks.

The constitutional reforms will set the basis for democratisation. New political spaces will be created for society to express itself and be able to struggle without repression, intimidation or coercion.

The Mexico agreements, as they are known, have also produced the essential agreement to create the Commission of Truth, made up of three members appointed by the United Nations. It would investigate all cases of human rights violations that have been left unpunished, especially those committed by the armed forces. In 60 years there has never been a member of the military put on trial.

The other achievement is the continuity of negotiations. Even during the talks there was a lot of right-wing pressure, and they even went as far as murdering an FMLN negotiator. That was open provocation to get us to break off negotiations.

Can the government be trusted to keep agreements?

When we finished the talks, ARENA and Cristiani had undertaken to table these reforms in the Legislative Assembly. The ARENA bloc is the essential majority for approving or disapproving anything.

But the extreme right wing mocked the negotiations by amending the agreements to make them ineffective. So we're going to redefine the terms of the negotiations, because it can't be that we agree to something and then, when it comes to putting it into practice, the more extreme right-wing elements oppose it.

The negotiations reflect the correlation of forces at a given time. Therefore the FMLN has to struggle to achieve changes that for us are part of a revolution. They will be achieved by negotiation, popular struggle and armed struggle.

What's the likely next stage?

The Mexico results are just partial agreements on one subject — the constitutional reform. We've still got many other topics to discuss. One of the most serious is a cease-fire. We will also put forward other points like social reform, economic reforms, human rights and the freeing of political prisoners.

The cease-fire isn't just a matter of separating the armed forces, but also a matter of recognising that there are areas of FMLN control. The enemy doesn't want to acknowledge that the FMLN has a right to act politically. They would like us to be limited to small pockets isolated from the population.

The government has said that the FMLN has to demobilise before it can act politically. But ARENA also has an army, so there isn't any incongruence. They are scared that the FMLN can publicise its program, that it will get the sympathy of the nation.

What is the correlation of forces and how will it develop in the future?

Since the 1989 offensive and the military campaign of 1990, the army has been weakened and is suffering an internal crisis. Now it finds itself in the dock because everybody wants this society to be demilitarised. The FMLN has a capacity to resist as long as necessary.

The situation of the government and army is different from ours. We are achieving changes through our struggle. For us the military aspect is a guarantee to implementing the agreements.

The members of the FMLN army are civilians who have taken up arms, and we can transform into a political movement, but the army know that there will come a time when they will have no future as an army.

A historic bloc for change is being created in El Salvador. This bloc was built by all the left-wing and opposition forces, including the FMLN. That bloc is pluralist; it has various social and political currents and different ideologies and beliefs.

With the negotiations and the political struggle of the parties and the struggle of the social forces, we're getting into a situation where we can build political democracy. Basing ourselves on political democracy, we can also have social democracy.

Are the people tired after so many years of struggle?

What we're achieving is political democracy, then people struggle. We can't act as parents to them, we can't solve society's problems for them. We can open the way, but society itself has to struggle.

Political democracy opens the way for the peasants to work for agrarian reform. The FMLN isn't going to be the daddy that says "here you are, you have the land", because that would create a paternalism that would turn back on us.