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US must stop funding Salvadorean war

Column/By Barry Klinger

The time has come to choose sides on El Salvador.

I don't mean that we North Americans should decide whether El Salvador should be ruled by its priest-killing rightist government or by the rebel Farabundo Mart'i National Liberation Front guerrillas.

There is a clear moral difference between these two adversaries. Yes, both must bear some responsibility for prolonging a catastrophic and unpopular civil war for a decade; both have committed human rights abuses; and both have cores of support in their society. But the right -- the military, their wealthy civilian backers, and their hired thugs -- are responsible for a level of barbarity that leftist rebels have rarely attained. The government seeks to maintain a status quo of military control, but the growth of the FMLN is a response to the massacres of the nonviolent movement for democracy that became prominent in the 1970s. The right feel the war should end only if the FMLN surrenders, while the guerrillas have taken a position that the war can end when they can have a concrete guarantee of safety for themselves and the civilian opposition.

Still, we in Cambridge or Washington will not have to live under the rule of a Salvadoran, so we should not choose who will govern there. Yet our elected representatives have already chosen to come down firmly on the side of the Salvadoran military, supplying them with money, weapons, training, and moral support.

The choice we in the United States face is between accepting our government's efforts to prop up a repressive regime or working to get its bloody hands out of El Salvador's civil war.

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Events in El Salvador are now moving so fast it's hard to project what will be happening there by the time you read this column. On Nov. 11, rebel forces struck hard against the army positions in the capital, San Salvador, and across the country. Salvadoran and US officials tried to portray the offensive as a failure, but the government called a state of siege, took over the media, declared a curfew, and began bombing and strafing the city (with US-supplied aircraft). Unsurprisingly, the majority of civilian casualties are linked to the government's indiscriminate use of firepower. Mexican news reports allege that US pilots have been flying night bombing missions. As of Saturday, the rebels are still entrenched and well-supplied by civilian sympathizers in many areas in the capital's periphery.

This is the largest show of FMLN strength since the civil war started nearly a decade ago. Recent negotiations between the rebels and the government broke down when the right bombed the offices of the Fenestras union coalition, killing several labor leaders. There are mixed signals on what the guerrilla offensive means. Some see it as an attempt to spark a general insurrection to bring down the government -- an uprising that does not seem to be materializing. On the other hand, FMLN leaders have hinted that this attack is more a show of force to convince the military that they must negotiate.

No government likes to strike any deal that confers legitimacy to a rebellion. The Salvadoran military declared that they would not let civilians negotiate any peace unless the guerrillas unilaterally disarm. Since the military and their death squads have killed around fifty thousand unarmed civilians in 10 years, it would be suicide for the guerrillas to accept such terms. The rebels proposed a permanent cease fire, human rights reforms, and FMLN participation in elections. But they must convince the army that rebel military strength is great enough to justify concessions to the FMLN.

Polls conducted by priests at the University of Central America indicate that the key demand of the majority of the population is peace. Since the army refuses to make any compromise with the guerrillas, while the guerrillas are willing to stop fighting in exchange for a fair shot in elections, we can only conclude that the army is the greater obstacle to peace. As long as the government gets $1.5 million a day from the United States, it may be able to fight year in and year out. The United States proclaims its desire for a negotiated settlement, but the money keeps coming no matter what.

US policy is predicated on the assumption that it is only "extremes of the right and left" that are committed to repression and war. Indeed, there is a split on the right between those who would fight forever and members of the wealthy oligarchy, such as President Alfredo Cristiani, who want to end the war due to its economic destruction. However, US dollars and weapons go to "moderate rightist" and death squad leaders alike. Some in the United States argue that we should keep arming the Salvadoran government because the threat of an aid cut keeps the right from embarking on the staggering massacres of the early 1980s. Even aside from the fact that US aid actually increased during those massacres, this reasoning begs the question: do we really want to prop up a government that must be bribed not to massacre its own people?

What next in El Salvador? A good part of the equation is based on US willingness to keep funding the war. Anyone with any doubts about where US allies in El Salvador are heading need only look at the Jesuit priests, all educators at UCA, who were widely acknowledged even by the Bush Administration as voices of reason and a force of peace. On Thursday morning, after weeks of being attacked in the rightist press, the priests, and their cook and her 15-year-old daughter, were found murdered and mutilated in a sector of San Salvador controlled by government forces.

who

Barry Klinger G, a graduate student in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, is a member of the MIT Committee on Central America. He has followed events in El Salvador for the last nine years.

QUOTES. Don't use both 1 & 2. --mg.

The choice we in the United States face is between accepting our government's efforts to prop up a repressive regime or working to get its bloody hands out of El Salvador's civil war.

Do we really want to prop up a government that must be bribed not to massacre its own people?

Since the army refuses to make any compromise with the guerrillas, while the guerrillas are willing to stop fighting in exchange for a fair shot in elections, we can only conclude that the army is the greater obstacle to peace.