Salvadoran Rebels Anticipated Soviet Fall, Shifted Tack

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SAN SALVADOR – EL SALVADOR’S leftist guerrilla movement began moving away from Marxism-Leninism several years before the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991, they and independent analysts say.

Since the FMLN was already in transition, the Soviet Union’s collapse “wasn’t like a bucket of cold water, but of water which was already warmed,” says William, a pseudonym for a high-ranking 15-year veteran of the Salvadoran Communist Party, one of five rebel organizations that make up the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) coalition.

On Feb. 1, El Salvador’s 12-year civil war came to an end as a result of UN-mediated negotiations. With the FMLN now a legal entity openly participating in the political process, its members are willing for the first time to discuss previous clandestine relations with the Soviet Union and other countries.

“We’ve studied all the texts, Marxism-Leninism, Mao, and social democracy,” says Chano Guevara, a peasant who rose to become a top FMLN comandante in the rebel stronghold of Guazapa volcano. “But if we had followed the socialist camp we wouldn’t exist now. We continue to exist [because of] the politically and economically rooted problems in this country.”

Despite their ongoing ties to Cuba, the FMLN is one of the largest leftist insurgencies in the world to accept democracy. The decision to make reforms in advance of the Soviet Union’s collapse is a main reason the FMLN remains a viable political force in El Salvador, Western experts say.

“The age of the romantic revolutionary linked with Marxist-Leninist ideology is finished,” said Wayne Smith, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, who was the chief United States diplomat in Cuba in the early 1980s. “[But] movements such as the FMLN, who champion the poor but who do it through electoral means, are going to have a growing place in Latin America.”

The FMLN’s transition began as a direct result of changes in the Soviet Union. Although by the late 1980s, the FMLN was not dependent on the Soviet bloc to continue fighting, the insurgency would have needed direct foreign aid if they had ever taken power by force. But as early as 1986, the reform government of Mikhail Gorbachev communicated to the FMLN that it favored a negotiated settlement and would not finance a new leftist government, FMLN sources say.

Guerrilla leaders left secluded base camps in northern El Salvador to embark on a nine-country tour of Latin America in October 1988. FLMN leaders had always viewed themselves as within a broad vein of Latin American nationalism. But on this tour, they received criticism from many governments considered allies, such as Mexico, Argentina, and Peru, all of whom encouraged the rebels to consider a negotiated settlement.

THE rebel leadership was especially influenced by the dramatic decline of the Nicaraguan economy in the late 1980s, which signaled that no revolution in Central America could survive in isolation, FLMN sources say.

FMLN leaders were also swayed by changes in Eastern Europe. Most, including the FMLN’s top comandante and strategist, Joaquin Villalobos, supported popular reform movements there. Two months after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, a January 1990 internal document was published, which praises the “social forces that demand more democracy and independence” in Eastern Europe and openly rejects a one-party state.

“The people are removing the authoritarian, inept, and corrupt governments,” notes the document. “The masses feel … they must sweep out the mistakes of the parties in power, as well as their old and closed formulas.”

More than 1,000 Salvadoran revolutionaries received political and military training in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Cuba, and Nicaragua, they and East German sources say.

“During the week we had classes in Spanish,” says William, who was in the Soviet Union for nine months in 1979-80. “On weekends, we all had military training.”

The Soviet Union, Cuba, and to a lesser degree Nicaragua provided funds, weapons, and training to the FMLN throughout the war, FMLN veterans here say. But the support was heaviest in the early 1980s, they say.

While Moscow began to distance itself from the FMLN in 1986, East Germany continued to train Salvadorans until the collapse of the Berlin Wall, according to an East German who worked with the FMLN there.

In order to make up the aid shortfall, the FLMN developed new sources of weapons and funds from radical third-world countries including Vietnam and North Korea, and won substantial funding from church groups in the US and Western Europe, FMLN veterans say.

The Cubans, however, were the FMLN’s most consistent backers, providing specialized military training, as well as materiel and other support to the Salvadoran insurgency throughout the war, FLMN veterans say.

“We still have relations with Cuba, Vietnam and others,” says Ramon Medrano, a member of the FMLN’s top political commission, “and we have a right to.”

The insurgency also received substantial funds from several social democratic Scandinavian countries, especially in the early 1980s, according to FMLN veterans.

This eclectic base of support boosted the insurgency, FMLN leaders say. Nonetheless, they insist that the insurgency itself was domestically rooted, and that degree of foreign support was always exaggerated by the US.Some Western experts agree. “I don’t think there’s any question the Cubans helped the FMLN,” said Dr. Smith. “[But] the movement would have continued without any outside help at all.”

FMLN units extorted war taxes — running as high as $60,000 from individual coffee growers during harvest season, rebel and coffee-producing sources here say.

Throughout the war, these and other funds were used to buy weapons from the Salvadoran military, which ran a ubiquitous business in sales of US-provided weapons, according to FMLN operatives and civilians involved in arms transactions with Salvadoran military officers.

Guatemalan Army Crushes Land Protest

San Jorge la Laguna — Security forces have ignored the exhortations of Roman Catholic Church officials and other mediators in a local land dispute here and violently put down a two-week-old indigenous peasant occupation of disputed land. Mediators were still hoping to find a peaceful resolution when military riot police attacked on Saturday.

Military police moved in at dawn, hurling and swinging truncheons, according to witnesses. The dozens of injured included many women and children. Sixty-seven others, all men, were arrested.

The military’s swift and unexpected response to the peasant occupation has heightened tensions between the government of President Jorge Serrano Elias and Guatemala’s majority indigenous population. Indigenous organizations here have become increasingly active in both land and human rights issues in the past several months.

During the occupation, thousands of indigenous peasants from nearby towns and villages marched to San Jorge in an unusual demonstration of support.

“This is the sentiment and pain of all the people,” said one San Jorge resident.

“The situation in San Jorge is the situation in all of [Guatemala],” says Antonio Argueta, a labor attorney representing the community.

The villagers claim they have a “historic right” to more than 200 acres in a fertile valley on the shores of volcano-ringed Lake Atitlan. But entrepreneurs Luis and Carlos Saravia Camacho, who hold the current legal title to the property, plan to convert the valley into a luxury lakeside resort.

Ramon Varios Chiguil, one of their attorneys, said: “We don’t want a confrontation. But the land is legally ours.”

The conflict illustrates one of Guatemala’s most deeply rooted problems: reconciling the rights of land owners and those of indigenous people of Mayan descent, who make up roughly 60 percent of Guatemala’s population of about nine million.

At issue is whether the indigenous population’s historic claim to land supersedes titles written during the coffee boom of the late 1800s. Against a backdrop of increasing social unrest and two decades of declining living standards in the indigenous community, the government faces a difficult task in solving the dispute.

“We don’t even have a place to build a latrine,” says one of San Jorge’s community leaders. “We are poor. We don’t have enough land to farm.”

The disputed land lies between the village and the shores of Lake Atitlan. Last month, attorneys for the Camacho brothers notified the community that because of an impending investment project they would be denied access to either use or pass through the land. Two weeks later, about 1,000 villagers — more than half of San Jorge’s population — left their homes a half-mile up the mountain to build shacks and occupy the land in question.

On March 31, a smaller contingent of riot police destroyed the squatters’ shacks but did not attempt to remove the population. The Catholic bishop for this region, Monsignor Eduardo Fuentes, along with officials from the quasi-independent government Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, then began to mediate between the two sides. During the talks, the villagers rebuilt their shacks.

The Camacho brothers bought the land from the Fuentes family in 1975. According to still existing documents, Domingo Fuentes inherited the land from his parents in the late 1800s.

Two weeks ago, representatives of the Camacho brothers came to the site to negotiate with the community. They offered to expand a school, improve electrical lines, and install sewers if the villagers agreed to end their occupation of the land, community representatives say.

But the villagers rejected the offer, maintaining that what they want is the land. Community leaders say their claim to the land dates back to the 16th century, and that they can demonstrate that their forefathers, before the arrival of Europeans, were the rightful owners of the land.

“The historical claim and the [current] legal claim are not the same,” Mr. Argueta says. “The legal claim is divorced from [this community’s] history. What we are attempting to do is to convert their historical claim into a real right.”

The community enjoys the support of this region’s elected deputy to Guatemala’s National Congress, Julio David Diaz Chay, who met with villagers on Friday before the military crackdown. He said he would prepare a formal petition to the Serrano administration asking it to hear the villagers’ case.

Mr. Diaz’s constituency is among the poorest of Guatemala, which has one of the largest gaps between rich and poor in Latin America. While 2 percent of Guatemalans own more than 70 per- cent of the nation’s arable land, most Indians are chronically underemployed and landless.

Guatemalan Murder Probe Beset by Irregularities

Guatemala City — Her short stature and soft voice were deceiving. Among Guatemala’s highland Indians, she was a legend. Among her colleagues in North America and Europe, she was a rising academic star.

An ethnic Chinese Guatemalan, Myrna Elizabeth Mack Chang had become one of Latin America’s most eminent anthropologists. Her research focused on Guatemala’s nearly one million indigenous refugees, dislocated by severe military counterinsurgency practices in the early 1980s. Government authorities have been reluctant even to recognize the existence of these refugees; traveling on foot from camp to camp, Ms. Mack was the first to document their numbers and conditions.

But on Sept. 11, 1990, Mack was attacked and killed upon leaving her office here. Her colleagues and relatives believe she was murdered on the orders of Guatemala’s Military Intelligence Division.

One suspect, Noel de Jesus Beteta Alvarez, a former special sergeant major from the Security Section of the Presidential High Command, was charged in December with the crime. Mr. Beteta had been missing for a year before being apprehended in Los Angeles and extradited back to Guatemala.

The Mack murder case has become one of the most important in Guatemala’s history and is widely seen as a case challenging decades of military impunity. Both U.S. Ambassador Thomas Stroock and Guatemalan President Jorge Serrano Elias have pledged support for a full investigation.

But high-ranking civilian and military officials are undermining the investigation, according to independent investigators, human rights monitors, and non-American Western diplomats. The case has been beset by irregularities from day one:

* Key physical evidence was either ignored or discarded by investigating authorities, according to a forensic report commissioned by the New York-based human rights group Americas Watch.

* For nine months, authorities denied charges of military involvement. Only last June, after unprecedented international pressure, did the government announce that the crime was politically motivated.

* In August, the chief investigator on the case was himself gunned down in broad daylight outside his own police headquarters. According to the Roman Catholic archbishop’s office on human rights here, the investigator had evidence linking Mack’s murder to the military high command.

* A key witness he interviewed has since recanted his testimony.

* An military intelligence file — indicating that the military at the very least had an interest in Mack — has not been turned over to court authorities, despite several formal requests, according to the government’s own human rights ombudsman.

* On Dec. 9, the presiding judge removed himself from the case, claiming that Helen Mack, sister of the murdered anthropologist, had challenged his integrity by requesting access to presumably public documents on the suspect.

* On Dec. 10, the Mack family announced that groups of men had conducted surveillance of their home in Guatemala City for several days, in a manner similar to surveillance conducted on Mack prior to her murder.

The Mack family was formally visited by Ambassador Stroock in early December, as well as by ambassadors from Canada and France, in a public demonstration of support. “I hope this case does not remain, like so many other crimes, committed in a cloak of impunity.” Helen Mack told a local newspaper.

The Mack murder is but one of thousands of politically motivated murders in recent years. Since January 1990, extrajudicial murders and disappearances have continued at a rate of two per day, according to the ombudsman’s office.

Human rights monitors and Western officials say military-controlled security forces are the primary killers. The US State Department’s 1990 report on Guatemala reads: “Reliable evidence indicates that the security forces committed, with almost total impunity, a majority of the major human rights abuses.”

Based on previously recorded testimony, independent investigators and sources sympathetic to the Mack family say they believe Beteta was indeed one of Mack’s assailants. But the number of men involved in the murder of Mack and the surveillance that preceded it indicate that he was not acting alone, they say.

In El Salvador, Both Sides Say That New Year Pact Will End Long Civil War

San Salvador, El Salvador — The signing of a conditional agreement at the United Nations in New York to end El Salvador’s 12-year civil war is irreversible and likely to be respected, longtime activists on both sides of this embittered conflict say.

Although there is still fear that violence by ultra-rightist groups opposed to the accords may escalate in the coming months, activists and diplomats alike say they are confident the war will soon end. They add that supporters of both the government and guerrillas have already begun work on their postwar political strategies.

Less than an hour before the stroke of midnight here on New Year’s Eve, Salvadoran President Alfredo Felix Cristiani and the top five commanders of the guerrilla Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) reached a tentative bilateral agreement to end the fighting. According to its terms, a nationwide cease-fire will go into effect Feb. 1, to be followed by a transitional period until Oct. 31, when the demobilization of the rebels is to end.

Specific details on the accord must still be worked out. But the most difficult matters — including the formation of a new civilian police force and major reforms of the military — have already been agreed upon, guerrilla leaders and United States officials here both say. The cease-fire agreement is expected to be formally signed in New York on Jan. 16.

Rebels see victory

FMLN combatants and supporters, many of whom have had relatives killed by the military, see the accords and especially the proposed military and police reforms as a victory after decades of struggle. Most of the 75,000 Salvadorans killed in the 12-year civil war did not die in combat, but were assassinated on suspicion of supporting the rebels.

Two days after the accords were signed, leftist groups organized a block party in downtown San Salvador in front on the Metropolitan Cathedral. One banner read, “The FMLN has arrived.” Thousands of FMLN supporters as well as hundreds of combatants in civilian dress recently returned from the mountains, mingled, and greeted old friends in the central square. As a Ranchera band changed the words to a slow, Mexican ballad, the elated crowd swayed and sang along in unison to the tune of “Goodbye, Armed Forces.”

The conditional agreement was the result of 20 months of protracted negotiations under UN auspices to end one of the most entrenched civil conflicts in memory. It came as a result of changing attitudes of all major players in the war including the US, independent political analysts and American officials here say.

“There was a shift in emphasis,” says a US diplomat. Following the November 1989 offensive by the FMLN, American priorities went “from supporting the counterinsurgency to supporting a negotiated settlement,” says the diplomat, who was in the country during the rebel drive.

The strongest sustained FMLN attack of the war, the November 1989 offensive, took both US and Salvadoran officials here by surprise. It demonstrated that the US-backed Salvadoran military was unlikely to defeat the guerrillas, the diplomat says.

FMLN leaders had long maintained that the US was actively blocking a negotiated solution. But with the beginning of direct negotiations at the UN in September 1991 between President Cristiani and the top five FMLN comandantes, guerrilla leaders both in New York and here say the US has played a key, positive role in making a negotiated settlement possible.

Western officials admit they actively lobbied the Cristiani government. “He knew … we wanted this agreement by the end of the year, and we wanted it badly,” one says.

Western officials also say that both the government and the FMLN demonstrated moderation in negotiations. “The FMLN deserves a lot of credit to have come to the table to try and find a reasonable settlement for the country,” according to a US diplomat.

Previously, US officials had characterized the FMLN guerrillas as “terrorist extremists.” During the 1989 offensive, for example, US Ambassador William Walker denied the insurgency had any legitimacy, saying the conflict was the result of “foreign inspired Marxist aggression” rather than a civil war.

US ambassador’s role

But in 1991, Mr. Walker made two separate trips to meet directly with FMLN leaders in Santa Marta, in the northern El Salvador province of Cabanas, a longtime rebel stronghold. Both guerrilla leaders and Western officials say the ambassador’s initiative helped build confidence between the two sides.

“We consider our direct relations with the United States, including the very same Ambassador William Walker, to have been important toward achieving these definitive, global accords,” said FMLN leader Walter Funes. Interviewed during a guerrilla New Year’s party on the northern slopes of Guazapa volcano 20 miles north of the capital, just minutes after news of the agreements was announced, Mr. Funes said he and his fighters had confidence in their representatives in New York, and added that the accords seemed satisfactory to rebels in the field.

US officials say they are also happy with the terms of the agreement. “Cristiani came out in remarkably good shape for what was essential to them,” says one US diplomat. “He beat back the FMLN on every vestige of power sharing.”

The text of the accords is still confidential. But in the final hours of negotiations the FMLN was pressured to drop its demand to have former guerrillas assume command positions in the new civilian force, as well as its demand to share decisions over social and economic policy with Cristiani’s government, Western diplomatic sources say. However, there will still be former rebels in the new police force. The military will also be reduced and significantly reformed, diplomatic sources say.

Jordan Defends Stance in Gulf War

When United States Secretary of State James Baker III visits the Middle East this week, one leader noticeably absent from his talks will be Jordan’s King Hussein.

Although the U.S. and Jordan have in the past cooperated closely on regional issues, the two countries experienced a falling out over the question of Jordan’s neutrality during the Gulf war. Despite the current rift, however, interests common to both countries are likely to determine future relations, Western officials here say.

Both recognize that the other will be essential to any lasting postwar arrangement, Jordanian and Western diplomats here say. With that in mind, U.S. officials are already reviewing their decision announced by President Bush early last month to freeze $75 million in aid to Jordan, Western sources say.

Senior Jordanian officials are less sanguine about establishing warmer relations with the U.S. in the near term.

That will depend largely on the terms the coalition demands from Iraq in settling the Gulf war, and whether the U.S. and other coalition countries put pressure on Israel concerning its occupation of Arab territories also in violation of United Nations resolutions, they say.

Equal treatment demanded it. “It is not enough just to look at the area under a series of bilateral terms with preferential treatment,” says Awn al-Khasawneh, a senior Foreign Ministry official and advisor to Crown Prince Hassan lbn Talal.

“We hope that there will be greater resolve to address the Palestinian question on the basis of international legitimacy,” he says.

Jordanian officials maintain that their policies have been consistent, having advocated a political settlement to both the Iraqi-Kuwaiti and Israeli-Palestinian disputes.

Jordan opposed both occupations and never recognized Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait, they say, arguing that Mr. Bush’s characterization of King Hussein as having taken a “pro-Iraqi tilt” was unfair.

“It is a question of perception,” says Khasawneh. “We think the perception the West has of us is wrong. Jordan has not been an apologist for Iraq, but an apologist for peace.”

“We feel very bitter and sad that the concern for the people of Iraq and their suffering has been interpreted as trying to frustrate coalition aims,” he adds.

Although senior U.S. officials felt personally insulted by the king’s speech three weeks ago condemning Western military action, they understand the king was responding to strong domestic pressures, Western sources say.

The Jordanian populace, more than 50 percent Palestinian, has been overwhelmingly pro-Iraq throughout the crisis.

“He [the king] is in tune more or less with his people, much more than any other Arab leader,” says another Western diplomat.

Washington is not about to underestimate King Hussein’s role in the region’s stability. He will be a useful interlocutor among Arab countries to help mend fences, Western officials say, and will continue to be essential to any formula for resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“He might be isolated from the West now, but the West will need him,” says the Western diplomat.

Divisions between Arab and West must first be overcome, however, Khasawneh says. “Deep wounds have been inflicted on a sister Arab state, and we can’t expect people to switch on and off their feelings,” he adds. “In part, confidence building measures are needed.”

Jordanian officials complain the destruction of Iraq’s economic infrastructure and military capability went well beyond the coalition’s UN-mandate, and the coalition should have accepted a cease-fire as proposed by King Hussein long before last week.

“The temptation of humiliating a defeated state or of imposing conditions aimed at the public humiliation of a people always [produces] results other than those intended,” says Khasawneh. “We hope that the United States will [now] aim at winning the peace instead of just trying to win a military conflict.””

Jordanians Lament Iraqi Move for Early Withdrawal

Amman, Jordan– THE jury is still out on whether Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is a hero or a failure among his supporters in the Arab world.

As they try to make sense of Saddam’s dramatic announcement Feb. 25 that he is abandoning Kuwait, many Jordanians say they remain faithful to the Iraqi leader. But shortly after the announcement, Jordanian government officials, who have been sympathetic to Saddam, said that he has effectively conceded defeat. Saddam is now likely to be perceived as having failed, they say.

“I think it has gone too far now,” says a senior Jordanian official who has supported Saddam. “You can’t fool the Iraqi people.”

Jordanians in the street and even some officials were surprised and upset upon hearing of Saddam’s announcement. “Deep in their heart, they always wanted him to fight longer and harder,” says a senior military source. “I don’t think he’s bloodied (the coalition forces) as much as anybody would like to see.”

But despite the confusion, most still clearly support the beleaguered Iraqi leader. “He will still be a heroic figure (in the Arab world). They’ll say he stood up to the West long enough that he didn’t just give in,” says the military source.

Jordan is also encouraging the United States-led coalition forces not to attack Iraqi troops while they’re withdrawing and to accept a cease-fire.

“That’s the position we have taken all along,” says a senior government official. “That’s what they should do if they want peace and to stabilize the situation.”

Iraqi Tactics: Avoid Early Combat

Amman, Jordan — Iraq is likely to employ tactics designed to minimize the effectiveness of coalition air support, according to military experts in Jordan.

Jordanian military commanders knowledgeable about the Iraqi Army’s training, tactics, and weaponry say Iraqi troops will likely try to avoid major combat in the ground campaign’s early stages. Instead, they will seek to lure United States-led coalition forces well into southern Iraq and Kuwait before counterattacking with main-force units.

Radio Baghdad confirmed that a series of smaller Iraqi Army units were already engaged in the ground war’s first day.

Contrary to last week’s claim by Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf III, the U.S. coalition commander, that the Iraqi Army is close to collapse, these experts suggest that Iraq retains a formidable fighting force with strong morale.

Iraqi troops’ greater combat experience, familiarity with the terrain, and need to defend their homeland will likely make the ground war last longer and claim more coalition casualties than leaders of the anti-Iraq alliance expect, military experts and Western diplomats here say.

The coalition air strikes designed to soften Iraqi ground forces have probably destroyed fewer targets than coalition spokesmen claim, these experts say.

“I think the reports that you hear about casualties are totally wrong on both sides,” says a recently retired brigadier general who holds a senior civilian post in the Jordanian government and still has access to official intelligence.

One of Jordan’s highest-ranking military commanders agrees. “I don’t believe they’ve knocked out half of what they say.”

According to Radio Baghdad and the pro-resistance Kuwaiti News Agency, the ground war began in several locations, including an amphibious landing on the Kuwaiti shore and ground attacks launched from Saudi Arabia into Kuwait and southern Iraq.

The Iraqi military was expected to take advantage of its well-protected defenses and hidden underground bunkers. The Kuwaiti News Agency reported yesterday, however, that tens of thousands of Iraqi troops surrendered in initial hours of the assault. The reports could not be independently confirmed. Radio Baghdad said its forces were holding firm.

“[Iraqi forces] will not expose themselves,” says the retired Jordanian commander. Once coalition forces are drawn into the theater of battle, then Iraq’s main forces, including the 125,000-strong Republican Guard, will attack, he says.

If the war lasts longer than a few weeks, as experts here expect, weather may also play a role. The dry season in the Gulf usually begins in early March. Windstorms of desert dust, known as the khamasin, can be like raging blizzard snowstorms. Appearing without warning, the khamasin can bring troop movements to a standstill, ground planes, and wreak havoc on motor vehicles and especially high-technology equipment.

Despite the coalition’s technological superiority in weapons, Iraqi troops still have advantages over the coalition forces, military experts and diplomats here say.

Iraqi forces’ extensive combat experience is one asset, says a Western diplomat. The eight-year Iran-Iraq war produced a generation of combat veteran soldiers and officers.

Iraqi soldiers’ familiarity with desert conditions and knowledge of southern Iraq and Kuwait is another likely advantage. They know the layout of cities and outlying areas, while the terrain is new to advancing coalition forces. Dug-in Iraqi troops will make use of the terrain’s ”natural defenses,” military experts say.

Directly contradicting claims by coalition spokesmen, Jordanian military experts say morale could prove to be Iraq’s greatest asset. At least 600 Iraqi soldiers have deserted, and those interrogated paint a picture of a battered and demoralized Army, coalition spokesmen say. Nevertheless, military experts here emphasize that Iraqi forces will be defending their own national territory.