El Salvador: Fifteen Years of Peace Accords

  On Jan. 16th, 1992 El Salvador ended a brutal war that ripped the country in half. The Government and FMLN guerilla forces opened a new chapter and signed the Peace Accords. The Accords officially ended the armed conflict, disbanded government Death Squads, disarmed the FMLN and converted it into an established political party.

This past weekend, events commemorating the signing rang throughout the country—and as far away as Spain. More are scheduled in the coming days. Social organizations, politicians and human rights activists used the opportunity to reflect on the promise of the Accords and the reality in which Salvadoran society finds itself today.

Separate and distinct celebrations marked the past week. The celebrations reflected the divergent visions of what “peace” means within various sectors of Salvadoran society. President Tony Saca and Minister of Security Rene Figueroa spoke at a Government-sponsored event on Saturday Jan. 13. Platitudes were plentiful at the celebration, which was held in the “Magico” Gonzales soccer stadium. The stadium scoreboard blared the message: “That we all be builders of social peace.”

“With the Peace Accords, we ended the war, but we have yet to create social peace,” Saca admitted to the stadium crowd, comprised mostly of members of the National Civil Police and military. The President attributed the war that gripped the country between 1980 and 1992 as the principal cause of the current violence and the explosion of gang activity that has gripped El Salvador in recent years. He called for a “national commitment to peace.” Figueroa echoed Saca, saying that Government alone cannot create peace.

The event stirred controversy when one FMLN supporter was  refused entry by authorities when he refused to remove his red FMLN t-shirt.

Some religious leaders participated in the event, such as Anglican Episcopal leader Martin Barahona. Opposition FMLN representatives did not attend. FMLN Director Ramiro Vasquez said the party opted out because the event was designed to serve the political purposes of Saca, Figueroa and the ARENA party, rather than to reaffirm a commitment to peace.

Human Right Ombudswoman Beatrice de Carrillo issued a statement on Monday that warned that, “Over these 15 years, the process of strengthening democracy … has been stalled and, of late, has rapidly deteriorated without signals of improving…”

That sentiment was echoed by other groups, like Pro-Busqueda and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL in Spanish).
“Peace is far off,” said Pro-Busqueda’s Margarita Zamora, "Every year, the January 16 celebrations are used as a smoke-screen to deny social justice.”

“In the 15 years since the signing of the Peace Accords, those responsible for committing massacres [during the war] have not been investigated,” said Gisela de León from CEJIL.

A UN Truth Commission report issued in 1995 found that 95% of the human rights violations committed during El Salvador’s armed conflict were perpetrated by the Salvadoran Army and government-aligned Death Squads. The FMLN was found responsible for the other 5%.

“Even in cases where members of the Armed Forces fingered [the guilty], no member of the military has ever been charged because five days after the Truth Commission Report was released, an Amnesty Law was passed, which has continued the impunity,” de León said.

For its part, the FMLN held a number of events on Tuesday, the day of the anniversary, including a plenary discussion featuring Mnsr. Rosa Chavez, FESPAD Director Silvia Guillen, and independent human rights expert David Morales at the Hotel Intercontinental. A pro-FMLN concert followed in San Salvador ‘s Civic Plaza.