El Salvador

The present crisis in El Salvador must be seen against its historical background. Not just the “local oligarchy” of fourteen families like the Duenas and the Hills, who own most of the country’s coffee exporting and other industries. Not just the particular American corporations, such as Exxon, Texaco and Westinghouse Electric, who have capital invested in El Salvador. But the market system of production for profit, which has come to dominate the entire world in the twentieth century.

The present Salvadorean capitalists arose with the integration of Central America into world trade at the end of the last century. Land which had been farmed in common by villages was transferred by the government into large private holdings for the cultivation of coffee for export. Some capitalists from other countries also joined the venture, and by the early twentieth century the increasingly powerful land-owners began to complement their activities will the creation of financial institutions, such as a central bank. The depression of world capitalism in the ’thirties brought diversification into other industries, in response to falling coffee prices. It also brought the peasant uprising led by Farabundo Marti, the massacre of thirty thousand people by the troops of Martinez, and the beginning of fifty years of military dictatorship.

The imperialist efforts of the Russian dictatorship have generally not been too subtle. Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Afghanistan, Poland . . .  to control the profitable resources of these countries is naturally of strategic advantage to any capitalist power, including Russia. The American empire, on the other hand, is rather sophisticated. Capital is invested, puppet regimes are installed, arms provided, complete with “technical advisors”, and the dividend freely drawn. If a few peasants are shot, if a few workers starve, it will be in the name of “freedom”, and the investors are certainly “free”.

The American ruling class has long had particularly lucrative and strategic interests in the Caribbean basin. In 1964, the US Agency for International Development and the Department of Defense produced a document entitled Winning the Cold War The US Ideological Offensive. The unfortunately named USAID Deputy Administrator, Mr. Coffin, is quoted as saying:

Our basic, broadest goal is a long range political one. It is not development for the sake of sheer development . . .  An important objective is to open up the maximum opportunity for domestic private initiative and to insure that foreign private investment, particularly from the United States, is welcomed and well treated.

American “military and economic aid” to the Caribbean area this year will total almost one billion dollars, of which more than a third is directed at El Salvador. A request for an additional $100 million military aid for the Duarte regime was included in the foreign aid bill sent to Capitol Hill by the White House. The US Secretary of State, Alexander Haig, has tried to rouse his fellow American capitalists with suggestions that the opposition movements in El Salvador and similar Central American countries are secretly being sponsored by the Russian government. The fact is, when you are living under a regime where the state forces can kill 30,000 in two years, and where one in fifty people possess three-fifths of the land, you don’t need Tsar Brezhnev to tell you of the need for change. But despite Haig’s hysteria, American capitalists seem to have learnt some caution since Vietnam. One hundred and four members of Congress have signed a statement urging Reagan to support negotiations between El Salvador’s government and what they call “left-wing insurgents”:

The escalating crises in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua are reaching a critical juncture and run the risk of involving the United States in a major regional conflagration.

Haig responded to this by insisting on the importance of “investment in foreign assistance” for future American security:

The overwhelming portion of our aid programme will go to nations which share our strategic concerns. (The Guardian, 4 March, 1982.)

Cartoon by George Meddemmen.

As with every other military conflict in the world, what is at stake is the profits of minorities. Guatemala, for example, another US-backed dictatorship, contains much oil and other minerals, and has a vital strategic position near the huge oil fields of Southern Mexico. Many ports in the region are heavily used for US trade.

In El Salvador, then, there is a civil war. Those who oppose the maintenance of the Duarte regime and the particular interests it protects are now represented by the joint Revolutionary Democratic Front and its military wing, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front. Many thousands have died in this war. The United States government has supplied arms and “advisers” to the army and has claimed that the uprising is part of a “Communist” plant to take over the region. In their campaign the FMLN-FDR has publicised information about El Salvador. By 1961, for example, six families owned as much land as eighty per cent of all landowners, and nearly three-quarters of young children are still malnourished. But the workers and peasants in El Salvador must look at the backcloth of world capitalism against which they have suffered so much, and question carefully the FMLN-FDR leaders who are now offering to lead them to “national liberation” and “independence”. Mario Sandoval Alarcon, who is reported to control about three thousand armed civilians in a number of “anti-Left” death squads, has long been the leader of a “National Liberation Movement” in Guatemala, and the hated Christian Democrat President Duarte of El Salvador himself was exiled in 1972 for his “subversion”. Social revolution has not taken place if one dictator is simply replaced by another, the system of society remaining the same.

Liberation from capitalism cannot be achieved on a national scale. Socialism will not be introduced by yet another set of military leaders acting “on behalf of the people”, whatever their slogans or proclaimed allegiances. This was unwittingly admitted by Luis de Sebastian, European representative of the FDR-FMLN, speaking at their anniversary meeting in London:

The economic model proposed for El Salvador will be a mixed economy. By this we mean that along with a state-owned sector, there will be a private sector . . . We will not yet be socialist . The people‘s views are very much present in the FMLN-FDR’s leadership of the process. We sincerely hope that we will never become detached from the masses, that we will never become an empty bureaucracy dictating to the masses what to do. (Quoted in El Salvador News Bulletin, 13.)

All of the indications are that this “sincere hope” will not be fulfilled. The US government backed the March elections in an attempt to legitimise the process of exploitation without the expense of sending in troops. But any party standing had to present a list of twenty thousand members—not the sort of information any opposition party would want to hand over to the government forces, with their incarceration and torture of political opponents. Taking part in the elections was made potentially so dangerous that the Electoral Council advised candidates to campaign through “paid advertisements in the press, radio and TV, and remain outside the country” (El Diario de Hoy, 16 July, 1981). In the midst of a civil war, and organised by a particularly vicious dictatorship desperate to retain its power, the elections were a travesty of democracy. In solidarity with workers throughout the world, the subjects of that dictatorship would do well to challenge the world capitalist system which cannot tolerate genuine socialist democracy, in the spirit of their anonymous folk poem:

What I’m telling you is true. The rich
will never lift a finger to help us,
that would be like trying to cover the
sun with a five-penny piece.
The big merchants, the money lenders
The factory owners, the landowners
The bank owners, the Military Mr. President
Don’t wash our shirts stained
with sweat after our day’s toil,
Don’t fetch us water from the river
Don’t build our shacks
Nor will they set the factory machines in motion
Nor till the soil
Nor sow or harvest the seed
All this we do
and it’s the same with everything.
If we, with that same fervour with
which we plough the earth,
don’t organise and keep fighting
no one will do it for us

                                    (Poesia Rebelde)

Clifford Slapper