Will Justice Be Possible In Guatemala?

A partial retrial for 86-year-old ex-President Efraín Ríos Montt on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity now seems likely after Guatemala’s top court this week overturned his historic May10 conviction on a technicality. Regardless of whether he is convicted again, other former military officers, who were even closer to the carnage against Ixil-speaking and other ethnic Mayans in Guatemala’s highland regions, remain at large.

One of them is Guatemala’s president, Otto Pérez Molina, a retired general who, according to an ex-soldier testifying in Ríos Montt’s trial, ordered soldiers to burn and loot villages and “execute people.” But President Pérez Molina was not on trial and no corroborating evidence against him was heard. (Pérez Molina denies any wrongdoing, or even that genocide in Guatemala ever took place.)

Such evidence exists, however. And there is more evidence still against other officers, particularly the tight-knit group who filled the chains of command during the genocide in the early 1980s, between then-Major Pérez Molina and then-President and General Ríos Montt.

Ríos Montt may yet become the first former head-of-state successfully prosecuted in his own nation for genocide. But this story doesn’t end with one facing an odd genocide trial and another president implicated in war crimes from thirty-odd years ago. A third Guatemalan president, Alfonso Portillo, faces trial in Manhattan on US money laundering charges, which were filed in 2010. Although they each served decades apart, and only two of them are former military officers, these three presidents have stories that are tightly interwoven. Much like the threads of an olive green military dress uniform, pulling too hard, now, at any one loose string, could start unraveling the fabric to eventually bare what lies beneath. This would also include the role of the United States in the violence in Guatemala.

If he were ever brought here for trial, ex-President Portillo would become the first former head of state from any nation to be extradited to the United States. (Former Panamanian leader Manuel Antonio Noriega was brought in 1990 as a de facto prisoner of US military forces who captured him following an American invasion.) Portillo has denied charges that he embezzled tens of millions of dollars of Guatemalan funds, “converting the office of the Guatemalan presidency into his personal ATM,” as the indictment from the US Southern District Court of New York charges. He allegedly stole funds from Guatemala’s school libraries, defense ministry and a national bank, laundering the money through banks in the United States and Europe.

An elite group of former military intelligence officers are implicated in the same crimes. Back when General Ríos Montt assumed the presidency through a 1982 coup, these officers bonded and rose as an informal but powerful force. The same club of officers exists today—the place where genocide and organized crime meet.

A Defense Intelligence Agency cable from 1991 identifies this “intelligence club,” whose members called themselves the “Cofradía…the name given to the powerful organizations of village-church elders that exist today in the Indian highlands of Guatemala.” According to the once-classified cable, “This vertical column of intelligence officers, from captains to generals, represents the strongest internal network of loyalties within the institution.”

La Cofradía was formed during the peak of violence in the early 1980s by a group of Army Colonels, who, according to the cable, “must be given much of the credit for engineering” the military operations that both defeated the nation’s leftist guerrillas and resulted in genocide for 5.5 percent of the nation’s Ixil-speaking people.

“Under directors of intelligence such as then-Col. Manuel Antonio Callejas y Callejas back in the early 1980s, the intelligence directorate made dramatic gains in its capabilities, so much so that today it must be given much of the credit for engineering the military decline of the guerrillas from 1982 to the present,” reads the cable, which was obtained by George Washington University’s National Security Archive.

These Army colonels recruited “other capable officers” who were their juniors to serve in “key operations and troop command assignments.” The “Operators” developed their own “network of recognition, relationships and loyalties.” One of the operations officers, the cable goes on, was then-Major Otto Pérez Molina.


Ríos Montt took power in 1982 through a coup and later formed a political party called the Guatemalan Republican Front. Having always wanted to be a popularly elected president, he tried running for it three times, but Guatemalan courts kept ruling he was ineligible over his role in a past coup. So Ríos Montt handpicked a career politician named Alfonso Portillo to run on his party’s ticket in his place, and Portillo, after losing one election, won the next one to take office in 2000.

One of President Portillo’s most frequent guests at the National Palace was retired intelligence chief and Cofradía officer Ortega Menaldo, spotted so frequently, a spokesman felt compelled to tell reporters that he was just a close friend and not an official advisor.

In March 2002, the State Department revoked Menaldo’s US entry visa due to narco-trafficking allegations. Menaldo denied the allegations, telling reporters that he had previously collaborated with both the CIA and the Drug Enforcement Administration against drug trafficking. The same top Cofradía officer named in the DIA cable, now-ret. General Callejas y Callejas, also had his visa revoked on the same grounds, but never responded to the allegation.

The Bush administration eventually decertified Guatemala for failing to cooperate against drug trafficking.

“Narcotics trafficking, alien smuggling, car theft, money laundering, and organized crime in general are on the increase in Guatemala,” a State Department official, Paul Simons, testified to Congress. “Some of the leaders of these activities have very close ties to the president and regularly influence his decisions, especially with respect to personnel nominations in the military and ministry of government.”

US agencies have finally begun holding Guatemala accountable for criminal activity, after largely ignoring drug trafficking and other crimes by retired military officers and others for years. But the United States has yet to account for its own role in Guatemala’s genocide. To date the closest any U.S. official has come was then-President Bill Clinton saying in Guatemala City in 1999 that “support for military forces or intelligence units which engaged in violent and widespread repression of the kind described in the report was wrong.”

Pérez Molina was in Washington serving as the Guatemala military liaison to the Inter-American Defense Board, when Portillo was elected president with Ríos Montt’s and his party’s backing. When the new government was inaugurated, Pérez Molina retired from military service, and within a year founded the Patriotic Party.

Soon both Ríos Montt and Pérez Molina were elected representatives on different sides of the Guatemalan legislature. (Ríos Montt’s daughter, Zury Rios, was an elected legislator, too. She married then-Illinois congressman Jerry Weller, who later left Congress over improprieties including undisclosed Nicaragua beachfront properties first documented in the Chicago Reader by this reporter.)

Pérez Molina ran for the presidency in 2007 and lost, and ran again in 2011 and won. He came to power promising to crack down on organized crime, especially Mexican drug cartels that in recent years have inundated Guatemala. But President Pérez Molina also allowed, in no small part due to international pressure, both a UN anti-crime task force, backed by the United States since the Bush administration, as well as Guatemalan’s own dogged attorney general, Claudia Paz y Paz, to continue gathering evidence and bringing cases to court.

One of the nation’s future defendants could conceivably be him. Using the nom de guerre of Major Tito Arias, then-Major Pérez Molina served in the Ixil region, where journalist Allan Nairn interviewed him on camera as part of a documentary made by the Finnish filmmaker Mikael Wahlforss. The documentary recorded Pérez Molina standing amid a row of adult male corpses, as soldiers kicked their remains. A soldier said on camera that they had brought the men to Pérez Molina for interrogation, but that they provided no information. The soldiers did not explain how the men were killed.

A City University of New York anthropologist, Victoria Sanford, recently wrote a New York Times op-d saying that the Obama administration should lead nations in the Organization of American States to demand President Pérez Molina’s resignation.


Anthropologists have long helped document abuses against Guatemala’s majority Mayan population. In 1990, anthropologist Myrna Mack was killed, stabbed twenty-seven times, by a military high command agent. Her sister, Helen Mack Chang, was a bank loan officer who has since emerged as the nation’s leading human rights advocate.

Helen Mack long ago compared the impunity surrounding the Guatemalan military and its crimes to a wall. With the trial of ex-President Ríos Montt the wall has finally began to crack, but not yet crumble. It remains unclear whether any legal or other action will be taken against the former military “Operator” under both Ríos Montt’s and the Cofradía’s commands, now-President Pérez Molina.

Ex-President Portillo, the politician handpicked by Ríos Montt, stands indicted in Manhattan. But his extradition has been stalled for three years. A related criminal case against him has remained open in Guatemala, even though few actual proceedings occurred. Last month the case was finally closed, perhaps now paving the way for Portillo’s extradition.

Even if his extradition were approved, his money-laundering case in New York is so potentially explosive that American diplomats wonder out loud whether he would be killed before he left. “A powerful group of former senior military officers known collectively as ‘The Brotherhood’ (‘La Cofradía,’ suspected of narcotrafficking and other crimes), who colluded with then-President Portillo to embezzle millions from the state, might seek to murder him in order to ensure he does not collaborate with Guatemalan or U.S. authorities,” reads a 2010 still classified State Department cable signed by Ambassador Stephen McFarland, a career diplomat and veteran Central America hand, and obtained and made available online by WikiLeaks.

The genocide and other crimes committed with impunity in Guatemala have long ripped the fabric of the nation. Stitching it back to together will require the same kind of hand-woven care it takes to embroider a detailed, colorful Ixil woman’s huipil.

May 23, 2013

Read more: http://www.thenation.com/article/174433/will-justice-be-possible-guatemala#ixzz2U8zkGXMA

Bush’s Brush with Latin America’s Drug Lords

Original story found here.

George W. Bush has embarked on the longest trip of his presidency to Latin America this week, a junket to Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico that purports to advance social justice. His journey comes at a time when oil-rich Venezuela, under the radical populist President Hugo Chávez, has eclipsed the United States in bankrolling health and education programs to help the poor in Venezuela and other nations in the region.

But Bush’s trip also comes in the wake of evidence that organized crime has infiltrated the top law enforcement agencies of two nations on his travel itinerary. Each one, moreover, is playing a separate role in moving most of the cocaine reaching the United States. Last week the Bush Administration blamed Venezuela and Bolivia–another Andean country under another leftist president–for lacking the political will to combat drug traffickers. But the Administration has said little or nothing about the lack of political will to combat drug traffickers on the rightist side of the political spectrum in Colombia and, especially, Guatemala.

Fortunately, many drug suspects elsewhere in the region have already been held to account. Last month Mexico extradited fifteen fugitives, including one alleged kingpin, in what the US Drug Enforcement Administration said was an “unprecedented” and “priceless” step. Recently Colombia, too, has made what the DEA heralded as “record numbers” of extraditions, including that of a leftist guerrilla financier who was recently convicted of smuggling to our nation at least five kilograms of cocaine.

But Colombian President Álvaro Uribe has decided not to extradite rightist paramilitaries responsible for mass murders in Colombia and for trafficking tons of cocaine to the United States, saying he must offer the paramilitaries an amnesty to entice them to lay down their arms–even those belonging to what the State Department identifies as a paramilitary terrorist group. Why is Uribe so soft on paramilitaries? Last month two of his top officials fell from office over their alleged paramilitary ties, including the Colombian foreign minister, who resigned on February 19, and the nation’s top law enforcement intelligence director, who is now in jail.

The nation with the worst extradition record in the region, however, is Guatemala. This small republic just south of Mexico–“in our own backyard,” as the late President Ronald Reagan used to say–has recently become the trafficking conduit for between two-thirds and three-fourths of all the cocaine being trafficked to the United States from Colombia and other Andean nations, according to US agency estimates recently quoted in The New York Times and the Associated Press, respectively.

Guatemala has further failed to extradite even one Guatemalan on drug charges in more than a decade since the first Clinton Administration. Of course, no one would glean that from reading the State Department’s annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report to Congress. Somehow Foggy Bottom has failed to tell Capitol Hill that even though Guatemala has extradited several Guatemalans in recent years, the suspects in each case were wanted for isolated murder charges in different US states and not for international drug trafficking.

On March 7, I asked State Department spokesman Sean McCormack on camera if he could explain why the Bush Administration speaks so loudly about the good news on Mexican extraditions and not at all about the ongoing bad news on Guatemalan extraditions. A day later, in a lengthy statement, the State Department sidestepped the question, and then spun it, merely pointing out that last year one Guatemalan was extradited on “a narcotics-related murder.” Indeed, this suspect now faces a murder trial over a botched drug deal in California, US officials with knowledge of the case say, but this extradition has nothing to do with international trafficking.

The State Department’s misleading statement confirms an undeniable fact: The United States gave up trying to extradite Guatemalan drug suspects back in 1994 after the assassination of the Guatemalan chief justice. The State Department during the Clinton Administration inexplicably waited four years before finally acknowledging the motive behind his murder in a few lines buried in a thick report to Congress. DEA officials shamefully waited eleven years before finally acknowledging under pressure to The Texas Observer that “the judge deserves to be remembered and honored for trying to help establish democracy in Guatemala.”

Guatemalan Chief Justice Epaminondas González Dubon was gunned down in Guatemala City in front of his surviving wife and youngest child shortly after he stood up for DEA evidence in a US extradition case. The suspect was a Guatemalan Army lieutenant colonel accused of smuggling 500 kilograms of cocaine to Florida. On March 23, 1994, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, led by Judge Dubon, ruled to extradite the accused Army officer. Nine days later, the judge was murdered behind the wheel of his own car. Soon after the surviving justices, with a new court president, denied the extradition, changing the date and verdict but not the case number, as was first reported by the Costa Rican daily La Nacion to copy over the original ruling.

Since then drug trafficking through Guatemala has ballooned. In 2002, under pressure from its Republican allies in Congress, the Bush Administration finally told the House Western Hemisphere Subcommittee the bad news. “Intelligence indicates that large amounts of cocaine are being transshipped through Guatemala with almost complete impunity,” former Reagan Administration official Otto Reich testified on behalf of the Bush Administration. “Few high-level figures are ever charged or even formally investigated for corruption, and fewer go to trial.”

The same year, the Bush Administration identified two suspects, Francisco Ortega Menaldo and Manual Antonio Callejas y Callejas. Each of these men is a former Guatemalan Army intelligence commander, and each one also briefly trained at the US School of the Americas, in 1976 and 1970, respectively. Both are credited in declassified US intelligence reports with “engineering” bloody counterinsurgency methods back in the early 1980s that a United Nations Truth Commission later said included “acts of genocide.” In 1996 a White House Intelligence Oversight Board report identified Ortega Menaldo as having a longstanding relationship with the CIA, although the Clinton Administration oversight board declined to say whether the Guatemalan general was merely an institutional liaison or a paid asset.

The State Department revoked the US entry visas of both these retired intelligence chiefs in 2002 over their suspected ties to drug trafficking. Ortega Menaldo publicly denied the accusations, while Callejas y Callejas never made any public comment. They are hardly Guatemala’s only drug suspects. Human rights groups maintain that a shadowy network of former intelligence operatives involved in various crimes has infiltrated the nation’s law enforcement institutions. In 2005, Guatemala’s top two US-trained antidrug police were arrested on drug charges after the DEA lured them to Virginia to get around the need to extradite them.

In February, Guatemalan authorities arrested the commander and three other officers from Guatemala’s top anti-organized crime agency over the brutal murders of three Salvadoran legislators and their driver in what Guatemalan President Oscar Berger said was a drug-related massacre. One week later the same four Guatemalan special policemen had their throats slit in their jail cells before each received a tiro de gracias–a final gunshot–to insure that they were dead. While midlevel Guatemalan authorities now say they suspect jailed youth gang members of having murdered the policemen, President Berger originally blamed organized crime hit men who somehow entered the prison.

It’s long been easy for US officials to blame drug trafficking on leftists of one kind or another. But both Colombia and Guatemala show organized crime is hardly exclusive to any particular Cold War-era ideology. Still, one may well argue that the so-called war on drugs is a futile effort bound to fail over time. But there is no doubt that organized crime, if left untouched, only continues to shred the fabric of its own nation. Murders per capita in Guatemala are now higher than in Colombia, according to the United Nations Development Program. Guatemala–flush with drug thugs–has also seen thousands of organized rapes and murders of young women in recent years, at a level higher than even northern Mexico.

President Bush is visiting Colombia and Guatemala at a time when drug corruption and corresponding violence in each nation is spilling over. If Bush wants to demonstrate the values of social justice that this nation purports to stand for, he can begin by demanding extradition for all suspects implicated in not only mass murders in their own nations but in running tons of drugs led by cocaine to ours. It’s also time for Congress, which purports to help oversee US drug control policies, to finally ask why rightist drug suspects in both Colombia and Guatemala were ignored for so long.

U.S. Arms for Terrorists?

Original story found here.

The Colombian police heard in early May that a big deal was going down inside a gated luxury community southwest of Bogotá. On May 3 they followed Colombian suspects, two of whom turned out to be retired Colombian Army officers, to a house filled with twenty-nine metal crates of arms and 32,000 rounds of ammunition. The police were still taking inventory of the cache when two more suspects knocked on the door. The police arrested them, only to learn they were US soldiers. The Colombian police said the arms were bound for an illegal paramilitary group that the State Department considers to be both a drug-trafficking and a terrorist organization.

The community of Carmen de Apicalá, where the arms were found, is only a short drive from Colombia’s Tolemaida military base, home to US Black Hawk helicopters and the place where US Special Forces train Colombian troops in combat skills. For convenience as well as security, many US military personnel and contractors rent condominiums in Carmen de Apicalá. “It’s a lot of ammunition, and it’s a very suspicious case,” Colombia’s police commander, Gen. Jorge Castro, told local radio. Colombian lawmakers in Bogotá said the US Ambassador, William Wood, should explain the circumstances to the Colombian Congress.

The State Department spokesman in Washington, Richard Boucher, denied that the arms were part of a secret US effort to arm Colombian paramilitaries. But he still refuses to say whether the arms are part of the unprecedented $3.3 billion in military aid the United States began sending in 2000 as part of Plan Colombia. The Colombian attorney general’s office, which is now investigating the case, said that the arms had been diverted from US stockpiles. The Colombian television station RCN broadcast footage of arms with US markings.

The case comes at a time when the Colombian government, led by President Álvaro Uribe, is negotiating a broad amnesty for Colombian paramilitaries. Known by their supporters as “self-defense” groups, Colombian paramilitaries have long been responsible for most of the country’s politically motivated massacres and murders, which often target peasants, trade unionists and students they suspect of supporting leftist guerrillas. The rightist paramilitaries have also long been accused of secretly collaborating with the military to carry out death squad crimes.

“I think that it’s probably fair to say that there is [sic] some episodes of contact between Colombian military and these so-called self-defense forces,” Roger Noriega, the senior State Department official for Latin America, told Congress during questioning eight days after the Bogotá arrests, adding that such “episodes” are against Colombian law and US policy. Yet, in nearly every region of the country, Colombian military officers of all ranks have been found to be secretly collaborating with rightist paramilitaries, and only a few have ever been seriously prosecuted.

The United States itself has long been ambivalent about Colombia’s paramilitaries. Back in the 1960s the US military, according to its own documents, encouraged the Colombian military to organize rightist paramilitary forces to help fight leftist guerrillas. By the early 1980s, Colombian drug traffickers and large landowners together organized the paramilitaries into a national force to ward off kidnappings and other forms of extortion by leftist guerrillas. But by the end of the decade, the government had outlawed paramilitaries after one group trained by the late drug lord Pablo Escobar blew up a Colombian airliner.

The Colombian military soon found a new way to maintain contacts with illegal paramilitaries, however. In the fall of 1990, according to a letter from the Pentagon to Senator Patrick Leahy, the US military helped its Colombian counterpart make its intelligence networks “more efficient and effective.” It was instructed, according to an April 1991 classified Colombian military order, to keep its operations “covert” and “compartmentalized,” to use only “retired or active-duty Officers or Non-commissioned Officers” as liaisons, and not to put orders “in writing.”

One new intelligence network killed at least fifty-seven people, including trade unionists, community leaders and a journalist, according to judicial testimony. But charges were dropped after most of the witnesses were either murdered or disappeared. In 2001 a former Colombian Army general, Rito Alejo del Rio, was arrested by Colombian authorities from the attorney general’s office on charges that he allegedly collaborated with illegal paramilitaries. But these charges, too, were soon dismissed, and the country’s top two civilian prosecutors fled the country.

Later that year (one day before 9/11, ironically), the US State Department finally put Colombia’s largest paramilitary group, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, on its list of terrorist organizations. In 2002 US authorities announced that the AUC was implicated in trading drugs for arms with none other than Al Qaeda. US authorities finally began indicting more Colombian rightist paramilitary leaders on drug charges, after having already indicted Colombian leftist guerrilla leaders on drug charges.

The May arrests of two US military officers for allegedly running arms to AUC paramilitaries raises many questions. US warrant officer Allan Tanquary and Sgt. Jesus Hernandez are now back in the United States, where officials say they may face criminal charges. “We’re committed,” said spokesman Boucher, “to a full investigation.”

Where’s the Brief

Congressman Robert Torricelli is Washington’s most aggressive anti-Castro politician, even though 90 percent of his northern New Jersey district is non-Hispanic (mostly Italian, Jewish, or Irish descent) and less than 2 percent is Cuban. These Cubans have yet to organize even one demonstration against Castro. But recently people have begun to demonstrate against Torricelli. Even The Bergen Record, his county’s paper, has begun to question his stance: “It is an odd twist, perhaps, that Torricelli should find himself leading the offensive against Castro,” reports Thomas Moran. “He represents a district that is just 10 percent Hispanic, yet he is a champion for anti-Castro voters nationwide.”

Anti-Castro groups gave Torricelli $26,750 for his re-election in 1992, and about $10,000 so far this year. He has already secured the powerful Cuban vote based in Hudson County, adjoining his district, should he ever seek statewide office. And if he entertains higher ambitions, he can count on help from the Miami Cuban exile community’s hard-line leader, Jorge Mas Canosa, as one of his biggest fans. “He is presidential material,” Mas Canosa told the Record. “You have dinner and drinks with him, and you come to know him. There are very few people who have his sense of purpose, of direction, and destiny. He has been called for a bigger mission.”

Torricelli defends his Cuba interest by saying that he is motivated by principle and commitment to a democratic ideal. Indeed, as chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, he has been an active supporter of human rights in Latin America. During his first campaign in 1982, he criticized the Salvadoran government’s abuses. (His current companion in Englewood, Bianca Jagger, was once an activist on El Salvador.)

Later, like many of his colleagues, Torricelli questioned the way U.S. officials handled the 1989 murders of sic Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter. Shortly after the killings, U.S. Army Major Eric Warren Buckland implicated El Salvador’s High Command and its Chief of Staff, Col. Rene Emilio Ponce, in testimony to the F.B.I. But State Department officials buried the affidavit for nine months, and, when it was “discovered,” claimed that the F.B.I. had bullied Buckland, a Special Forces Green Beret, into making a false statement. Last year, after the United Nations Truth Commission found that Ponce himself had ordered the murders, the official U.S. response went something like, “Gee whiz, whaddaya know?”

Torricelli, however, expressed outrage and promised to investigate whether U.S. officials had committed perjury when testifying to Congress about that and other crimes. Eighteen months later, no such investigation or hearing has occurred. When asked why, Torricelli declined to comment. He made a promise to principle and to the people in his district. But so far he has shown more loyalty to the Cuban vote outside it.

Blood Money and Geopolitics

The April 6 plane crash that killed the Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi (they may have been shot down) is only the latest violent act for these neighboring Central African countries. As many as 100,000 people have died and more than a million have fled ethnic and politically based attacks in recent years. Elements of the Tutsi-dominated army in Burundi assassinated its prior President, a Hutu, in October. Similarly, Rwanda’s Hutu-dominated army is responsible for most abuses them according to Human Rights Watch/Africa. On top of that, one in eight people in Rwanda is on the verge of starving, according to a new report by aid agencies including Oxfam.

Rwanda’s renewed terror broke out as it was tentatively moving toward a peaceful settlement of a three-year civil war, which ended last August. The conflict was fueled by third-party governments supplying arms, which typifies the accelerated dumping of weapons into underdeveloped countries since the cold war ended.

In October 1990, guerrillas of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (R.P.F.), seeking to overthrow the government of President Juvenal Habyarimana, invaded the country from its northern border with Uganda. From around the world came a steady flow of weapons, including Kalashnikov AKM (AK-47) assault rifles, long-range 120-millimeter mortars, 122-millimeter howitzers and Soviet-made Katyusha multiple rocket launchers, which can cover with shrapnel an area wider and longer than a soccer field. Thousands died, both combatants and civilians, and one million people were uprooted from their homes. “I think in this type of market everybody wants to get in:” said James Gasana, Rwanda’s defense minister last year, adding that most countries and independent dealers that supplied the weapons were less interested in who won the war than in making money on it.

The government forces are made up primarily of Hutu; the guerrillas, of Tutsi. Their conflict dates back to the seventeenth century, when the Kingdom of Rwanda was established as a highly organized and stratified state. Most nobles, military commanders, local officials and cattle herders were Tutsi, who today are about 14 percent of the population; the rest of the people were Hutu, who were and remain predominantly subsistence farmers. Their differences are not tribal but ethnic and social, with the Tutsi historically regarding themselves as superior.

The Tutsi monarchy dominated Rwanda until it was overthrown by the Hutu in 1961, a year before the country’s independence from Belgium, which over the years had allied itself with the Tutsi but had shifted sides in the late 1950s. One of the new government’s first acts was to execute some twenty prominent Tutsi leaders; Hutu crowds killed up to 20,000 Tutsi citizens. By 1964, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that about 150,000 Rwandan Tutsi had fled to Tanzania, Burundi, Zaire and Uganda. Twenty-five years later, these people and their descendants, called Banyarwanda, had swollen to a population of some 500,000. Most lack citizenship or legal residence in the countries to which they escaped, which has left them vulnerable to deportation, displacement and harassment.

In 1973, Defense Minister Habyarimana, a Hutu, seized power. He promised to be fair to both Hutu and Tutsi; instead he distributed most of the resources and key positions to family, friends and associates from the region of his birthplace in northwestern Rwanda. Until recently, Habyarimana ruled the country as a one-party state, and most government ministers were related to him by either birth or marriage. After the guerrillas invaded, Habyarimana’s regime distributed at least 500 Kalashnikov assault rifles to municipal authorities, working in collaboration with militia from his ruling party. With government officials in the lead, these militia organized mobs of agitated Hutu that went to villages and fields in search of Tutsi.

They stole beans and slaughtered goats and cattle. They divided up the meat along with clothes before setting many bamboo huts on fire. About 2,000 people died, most of them hacked to death by machete. The Habyarimana regime arbitrarily arrested at least 8,000 others. Hundreds were beaten, raped and tortured. The guerrillas also committed abuses, executing hundreds of civilians suspected of collaborating with the Habyarimana regime, as well as military prisoners. They forcibly dislocated hundreds, if not thousands, more, and forced an unknown number of civilians into slave labor as porters for the troops. Although the abuses on both sides were documented by an international commission that included Human Rights Watch and three Francophone organizations, both the government and the guerrillas deny them.

Most of the countries and dealers facilitating the Rwanda slaughter are similarly closemouthed. The Russians and other former Warsaw Pact members are now prolific suppliers of small arms. The collapse of Moscow’s central control has given governments as well as the officials left in charge of existing stockpiles a free hand. Since these weapons are already paid for, they can be loosed on the world market at prices below cost. With the Russian ruble losing its value, and Eastern European nations also in need of hard currency, their governments are likely to sell even more arms in years to come. They are no longer constrained by the bounds of superpower loyalties; the only thing that counts now is cash.

Although exact numbers are unknown, Kalashnikov rifles have been flooding markets and wars throughout Africa and Asia. As late as March 1992 belligerents in Central Africa could pick them up in bulk for $220 each; prices have since dropped well below $200. In countries like Rwanda, Kalashnikovs were once more common than cars; now they are more common than bicycles. About 80 percent of the weapons used by the R.P.F. guerrillas were Kalashnikovs, many of Romanian manufacture. Among those fighters who had uniforms, most wore rain-pattem camouflage from the former East Germany; these are now also available through commercial military catalogues. African arms dealers living in Brussels appear to have facilitated the delivery of Warsaw Pact materiel to East Africa. The trend is global and not limited to guns and camouflage: In 1992 the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration confiscated Soviet-made AH-72 cargo jets that Colombia’s Cali cartel had used to smuggle cocaine.

In South Africa, the government-owned Armscor has for years manufactured high-quality weapons for its security and defense forces, which could not buy guns abroad because of a U.N. embargo. While this resolution was binding, another one, against buying arms from South Africa, was not; Rwanda has ignored it. According to Armscor invoices dated October 19, 1992, South Africa sold Rwanda at least $5.9 million worth of light arms, machine guns, mortars and ammunition. About 3,000 Rwanda troops are now equipped with the R-4 assault rifle, which is superior to the Kalashnikov. The status of Armscor and its subsidiaries in the new South Africa has yet to be determined, but it is likely to become a private industry. The lifting of stigma and sanctions against the former apartheid state will give Armscor the opportunity to market its products openly and aggressively for the first time.

A weapons contract signed on March 30, 1992, reads: “The BUYER and the SUPPLIER agree not to show the contents of this contract to third parties.” The buyer was Rwanda and the supplier was Egypt, in a $6 million transaction that included Egyptian-made Kalashnikov rifles, anti-personnel mines, plastic explosives, mortars and long-range artillery. Other documents indicate that the sale was financed by a “first-rate, international bank approved by” Egypt. Rwanda paid $1 million in cash up front and promised to pay another $1 million with the proceeds from 615 tons of harvested tea, and $1 million a year over the next four years. The “first-rate international bank” guaranteed Rwanda’s payment of the full $6 million. Few private commercial banks, operating on the profit motive, would take on such a risk. But Credit Lyonnais did. Although it may be privatized soon, in March 1992 it was still a nationalized bank of France. The sale was, in fact, a secret military assistance credit from France to Rwanda.

This credit has since become a subsidy. What Credit Lyonnais and Rwanda didn’t count on was that the R.P.F. guerrillas would launch a new offensive in February 1993 and take over the Mulindi tea plantation. The tea there spoiled and never made it to harvest. “Our economy was already ailing in 1990, and of course the war has not resolved anything,” President Habyarimana said last October. “Now we want to improve our macroeconomic outlook, but we have a serious shortage of currency.” As for Rwanda’s outstanding debt to Egypt, Credit Lyonnais, and by extension France, is obligated to pick up the tab.

The French government’s willingness to do so, and to keep propping up Habyarimana militarily, arose from its determination to maintain its credibility in French-speaking Africa. From Rwanda’s independence in 1962 until the war broke out in 1990, the nation’s main trading partner, political ally and military patron was Belgium. But once the war began, that role was assumed by France. Belgium is unique among NATO member states in that its laws explicitly prohibit it from selling or providing arms to a country at war. Shortly after the 1990 R.P.F. invasion, Belgium cut off all lethal aid. And last year, following the release of the international commission’s human rights report, Belgium recalled its ambassador for consultation. Accusations that Belgium has aided the R.P.F. are false, and stem from the Habyarimana regime’s resentment of Belgian neutrality.

French officials, however, have defended the record of the Habyarimana regime. “Civilians were killed as in any war,” said Colonel Cussac, the French military attaché in the capital of Kigali and head of the French military assistance mission. (In an apparent act of disdain for journalists and others who question France’s role, Colonel Cussac declined to give me his first name.) “Are you saying that the providing of military assistance is a human rights violation?” he asked, adding that officials in the U.S. Embassy in Kigali supported French policy. “France and the United States have a common history — for example, in Vietnam.” In fact, all non-French Western diplomats in Kigali are critical of France’s role.

Immediately after the war started, France deployed at least 300 combat troops in Rwanda, drawing them from its forces stationed in the Central African Republic. France also rushed in advisers, helicopter parts, mortars and munitions. After the R.P.F. launched its offensive last February, the number of French troops in Rwanda swelled to at least 680, comprising four companies, including paratroopers. “French military troops are here in Rwanda to protect French citizens and other foreigners,” Colonel Cussac told me. “They have never been given a mission against the R.P.F.” But Western diplomats, relief workers and Rwandan army officers all said these troops have provided artillery support for Rwandan infantry troops, and that French advisers have been attached to Rwandan combat commanders.

France’s Ambassador said the country’s presence is necessary to defend Rwanda against aggression from Uganda. It is true that Uganda has not sat on the sidelines during the conflict, although its government categorically denies this. Almost all of Uganda knew about the impending invasion in 1990, as Tutsi soldiers in the Ugandan army openly bid farewell to their families and friends. They traveled with their weapons, in plain view of Ugandan authorities, over two days, and then gathered in a soccer stadium in Kabale, about 200 miles southwest of Kampala and just north of the Rwandan border. Their weaponry included land mines, rocket-propelled grenades, 60-millimeter mortars, recoilless cannons and Katyusha rocket launchers. According to Western diplomats, international military observers, Ugandan army officers and eyewitnesses who saw soldiers unloading crates of Kalashnikovs, Uganda willingly provided more arms, food, gasoline, batteries and ammunition to the R.P.F. throughout the war. “We are committed to the R.P.F.” one Ugandan army operations officer boasted after a few beets in Kampala. “If they didn’t have our support, they wouldn’t be as successful as they are.”

Along with the Tutsi refugees who have served in the Ugandan army, about 200,000 other Tutsi have been living in Uganda. While President Yoweri Museveni tries to rebuild the country in the wake of its wholesale destruction under Idi Amin, these refugees have competed, sometimes violently, with Ugandans for water, land, and other resources. In supporting the guerrillas, President Museveni seems less interested in claiming Rwandan territory than in facilitating Tutsi repatriation. Many top R.P.F. leaders also fought alongside Museveni in Uganda with the expectation that some day he would help them invade Rwanda.

The R.P.F. and President Habyarimana signed a treaty last August, but his untimely death provoked Rwanda’s most severe wave of bloodshed since independence. Hours after his plane went down, the regime’s Presidential Guard began targeting political opponents and critics irrespective of ethnicity. They included the interim Hutu Prime Minister, 10 Belgian peacekeepers who tried to save her, many priests and nuns, and journalists and human rights monitors. While these victims, running into the thousands, were primarily Hutu like the regime itself, the ruling-party militia along with bands of soldiers and drunken armed Hutu men killed tens of thousands of Tutsi. Six days after the carnage started, the first of the main body of Tutsi R.P.F. guerrillas arrived in Kigali.

While Uganda harbored and largely armed the R.P.F., Egypt, South Africa and especially France armed the Habyarimana regime, which is most responsible for the recent bloodletting. Uganda denies it. Egypt and South Africa will not comment, and France has yet to fully disclose its role.

Bearing Witness

Monique Mujawamariya slapped her hand into mine and said “Ca va?” In Kigali a year ago, her smile was contagious, although the scars on three sides of her mouth were ugly. One of Rwanda’s most active human rights monitors, she was cut in an accident when someone tried to run her car off the road.

Monique, as she is generally known, couldn’t prove who did it. But she was later threatened by Capt. Pascal Simbikangwa in front of Western witnesses. Simbikangwa is a member of the Akazu (“the little house”), the clique of thugs and top ministers that kept President Juvenal Habyarimana in power for so long through its organization of the Presidential Guard and militia. Akazu members deny responsibility for any abuses.

Many of Rwanda’s opposition party leaders have been assassinated in recent years; Dissidents and West- ern diplomats suspect the Akazu. “Shadow groups are behind the violence. But nobody can provide concrete evidence,” said Dr. Dismas Nsengiyaremye, a former prime minister. “Take the example of the mafia: Their chief may recruit from churches, the government or private companies, which allow him to conduct criminal activities without being seen.”

This made for a dangerous climate. Because of it, Human Rights Watch/Africa arranged for Monique to meet with President Clinton last December in the Oval Office. “Your courage, Madame, is an inspiration to all of us, and we thank you:” the President told Monique. “I want to assure you that the United States will continue to be in the forefront of nations pushing the cause of human rights.”

After President Habyarimana was killed in Kigali on April 6, Monique felt she was in danger. She called United Nations peacekeepers in Kigali, but they were under siege and unable to help her. (Belgium says ten of its peacekeepers were tortured and murdered by the Presidential Guard.) Monique also appealed to U.S. Embassy officials, who were busy safeguarding Americans.

By then Monique was in touch with a friend in the United States, historian Alison DesForges. “Around 5 A.M. I called Monique and she said that she had seen two [member] of the Presidential Guard go into a house two removed from hers,” DesForges wrote. They brought out three people and shot them. “Around 6 when I called the soldiers had entered the house next door and had just killed someone. I told her to stay on the line with me, to open the door for them and to tell them that I was the White House.” Instead, Monique hid for six hours on the ground in the rain and then crawled into her ceiling space. They missed her, and she survived.

Salvadoran Abyss

Escalon, San Salvador — “They should either kill them all or negotiate,” the well-to-do Salvadoran businessman said in nearly flawless English. Leftist guerrillas had taken over this usually quiet suburban neighborhood, and some had even passed the night in his home. “This thing has to end,” he added. “We need a solution.”

The November military offensive by the F.M.L.N. has forced a watershed in El Salvador’s history and overturned all conventional assumptions about U.S. policy here. In Escalon and other wealthy areas of the capital, the rebel drive has generated a new sense of pragmatism among right-wing people who had never entertained the concept of negotiations between the government and the F.M.L.N. Within the Salvadoran military, however, the offensive has strengthened the hand of the most ruthless and uncompromising army and air force officers. Unless there is swift action in Washington, total war may break out, leaving the United States with the choice of embracing the bloodshed or cutting off aid — thereby risking a military victory by leftist rebels. Events are moving at lightning speed, and the window of opportunity closes a little further each day.

A negotiated solution is Washington’s best hope for avoiding a policy disaster. But policymakers should abandon self-serving illusions, remove their ideological blinders and recognize the consequences of the November offensive.

First, it demonstrated that despite ten years of U.S. intervention and more than $4 billion in aid, the Salvadoran government and armed forces still cannot defeat the F.M.L.N. Militarily, the offensive was the rebels’ most spectacular demonstration of strength of the war. Politically it fell short of becoming a general insurrection or a seizure of power. But tens of thousands of Salvadorans collaborated, with a sophistication that demonstrates the rebels’ deep and highly organized base of clandestine support.

Second, the offensive prompted the government to shed its mask of democracy and civility with amazing speed. Its behavior surpassed even the worst expectations of its critics. The level of human rights abuses has been unprecedented since the early 1980s. The indiscriminate strafing, rocketing and bombing of heavily populated neighborhoods was appalling to behold.

Third, an overwhelming sense of terror has seized the country. The killing of the six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter seems irrational to the naive denizens of Washington, but in El Salvador it made perfect Machiavellian sense. The Jesuits were vociferous critics of the government and the most persuasive advocates of a negotiated settlement. Their murders sent a message: Anyone who even thinks of supporting the F.M.L.N. or a negotiated solution is at risk. And no one, from highly visible critic to anonymous peasant collaborator, is immune.

Fourth, the country’s political center has collapsed. With the exception of a few leaders, the left-led popular movement has been driven underground. Formerly U.S.-supported Christian Democrats find themselves either threatened or irrelevant. Church-based community activists have been targeted for repression. The only two political options that remain are the Salvadoran Army and the F.M.L.N.

Fifth, President Alfredo Cristiani is technically the commander in chief of the military, but he is an inexperienced politician who is in over his head. A bloc of ultraconservative military officers, including Gen. Juan Rafael Bustillo of the air force and Vice Minister of Defense Juan Orlando Zepeda, has effectively assumed command. Zepeda is the officer that army defector Cesar Joya Martinez named as ordering military death squad assassinations as recently as last June. Bustillo has ordered his planes to buzz and drown out several presidential press conferences in open mockery of civilian authority. Bustillo himself may soon be headed for retirement, but he and his ilk have built alliances with junior and senior commanders throughout the military, reducing Cristiani’s role to little more than figurehead.

Sixth, Cristiani’s middle- and upper-class supporters have been left dumbstruck by the offensive. They once believed the predictions of Cristiani and the U.S. Embassy that prosperity was just around the corner. After F.M.L.N. guerrillas appeared literally on their doorstep, they are now leaving El Salvador en masse for Guatemala or Miami. Their exodus is likely to precipitate a long-term economic divestment. U.S. aid, which offset this trend in the early 1980s, can no longer be absorbed. And El Salvador is already more dependent on U.S. aid than any nation since South Vietnam.

Finally, although this aid and intervention represent the greatest U.S.-backed counterinsurgency effort since the Vietnam War, the ability of the United States to influence or control events here has been reduced to almost nothing. In previous years, policymakers argued that current levels of U.S. military and economic assistance were necessary to support “moderates” in the Salvadoran military and to avoid a bloodbath. But the bloodbath has begun and the “moderates,” it seems, are either impotent or nonexistent.

Faced with the choice of negotiations or all-out war, the Salvadoran military has begun to opt for war. Its most powerful officers believe the United States will tolerate any level of abuse in the name of anticommunism, whatever that now means. Only a substantial cut in U.S. aid when Congress reconvenes in January will make them see things differently.

Negotiations or Total War

Morazan, El Salvador — Compa, read the posted handwritten note, “Why did the insurrection not occur?”… Many people at all levels of El Salvador’s leftist guerrilla movement genuinely believed that they would be raising their flag over San Salvador by March of this year. But at a base in the rebel stronghold of Morazan province, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (F.M.L.N.) has to question its own views. This process of self-criticism and re-evaluation has been described by sympathetic Salvadoran political analysts as the rebels’ Vatican II.

In short, both the leadership and the rank and file of the F.M.L.N. are weighing whether they can negotiate a compromise settlement with the government and still remain true to their revolutionary vision. Although this debate is more than five years old, never before in the history of the Salvadoran guerrilla movement has the concept of negotiations taken root so deeply. The reasons are both internal and external to El Salvador’s nine-year-long civil war.

First, rebel leaders cannot but take into account the geopolitical realities of Central America. Like it or hot, the Reagan Administration successfully demonstrated that the United States retains veto power in its backyard, and the Bush Administration is unlikely to depart radically from the old framework. Nicaragua, where most of the F.M.L.N. leadership has been living for the past year, has just marked the tenth anniversary of its revolution facing the worst economic crisis in its history. Regardless of the origins of that crisis, Salvadoran rebel leaders know that a second successful revolution in the region cannot afford to engage the wrath of the United States.

Second, the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev has voiced its opposition to a military victory by the Salvadoran rebels. Although its influence over the F.M.L.N. as an insurgency is marginal, it has nonetheless made it clear that a post-revolutionary El Salvador should expect much less than Nicaragua in the way of support. Again, the point is that a revolutionary El Salvador would face even narrower options than Nicaragua in trying to establish its independence from the United States.

Third, the F.M.L.N. has always perceived itself as being within a broad vein of Latin American nationalism. But on their nine-country tour of Latin America last fall, the two top Salvadoran rebel leaders, Leonel Gonzalez and Joaquin Villalobos, received unexpected criticism from sympathetic countries such as Mexico, whose views they take seriously. The message from the continent was clear: Pursue negotiations rather than a victory on the battlefield.

Fourth, the F.M.L.N.’s attempt to achieve a military win by way of popular insurrection did not succeed. Certainly, insurrection has not been abandoned. Part of the strategy behind it is to make the country ungovernable, forcing the government either to negotiate or collapse. But the rebels’ dream of seizing power through revolt this year didn’t happen; in fact, they didn’t even come close.

And fifth, in light of the failure of this insurrectional strategy, rebel leaders are aware that a military victory over an army that is so heavily bankrolled and equipped by the United States is not a viable option.

As in any such process of rethinking, it will take time for a consensus to form in light of these changes. Debate over whether the F.M.L.N. could genuinely support negotiations and a compromise settlement as its ultimate goal remains vibrant. But rather than pitting rebel factions against one another, the split — as far as one exists — is largely between the F.M.L.N.’s leadership and its rank-and-file supporters.

One frequently painted image of the F.M.L.N. is that of a band of zealous ideologues manipulating innocent civilians. But the irony is that, over time, the F.M.L.N.’s peasant base has grown more radical than its leadership. At least 90 percent of the F.M.L.N.’s combatants and civilian supporters are drawn from the ranks of El Salvador’s radicalized peasantry. Their participation in a revolutionary movement has been an experiment in empowerment; most have gruesome tales to tell of army repression. Unlike their leaders, who are better attuned to geopolitical realities, these radicalized peasants resist equating revolution with elections and negotiations with “the enemy.”

In January, for instance, the F.M.L.N. made the unprecedented offer to participate indirectly in elections (through the left-of-center Democratic Convergence) and to their outcome, on condition that the vote be delayed for six months. For the, F.M.L.N. leadership, the most difficult exercise was, not to persuade its adversaries of its sincerity but to convince its supporters that taking part in elections did not mean selling out the revolution.

The concept of negotiations and power sharing also raises a number of ideological questions for groups that have grown up within the Marxist tradition. But it is worth noting that the dominant element in the F.M.L.N. today is one of the least ideologically driven of the five rebel groups. The People’s Revolutionary Army (E.R.P.), led by Comandante Villalobos, is regularly misidentified as the “most dogmatic Marxist-Leninist” rebel organization. But the group was armed in the early 1970s out of the New Left tradition and not, like other member organizations of the F.M.L.N., as a splinter group from the Salvadoran Communist Party.

The E.R.P. can be called radical, even ruthless, in its tactics. The eight mayors assassinated by the F.M.L.N., for example, were all killed in areas under E.R.P. control. Nevertheless, the E.R.P. is politically pragmatic, and the group least constrained by the kind of Marxist orthodoxy that was dominant within the F.M.L.N. as recently as five or six years ago.

Writing in the Spring issue of Foreign Policy, Villalobos told his U.S. readers that the F.M.L.N. is committed to a third way of revolutionary democracy. “The Salvadoran revolution is conditioned by the geopolitical realities of Latin America and the United States,” he wrote. “The F.M.L.N. pursues an El Salvador that is open, flexible, pluralistic, and democratic.” Critics may be skeptical, but this position is entirely consistent with the E.R.P.’s own history and the internal evolution of the F.M.L.N. as a whole. Even so, the situation remains fluid, with no single group calling the shots for the F.M.L.N. Smaller rebel units acting independently are widely believed to have been involved in the recent wave of assassinations of high-ranking Salvadoran government officials, actions not authorized by the F.M.L.N. General Command.

How the cards ultimately fall will depend in large part on the response of the U.S.-backed Salvadoran government and army. While there has been considerable pressure on the F.M.L.N. both at home and abroad to re-evaluate its position, there has been no corresponding pressure on its opponents. Rather, El Salvador’s newly inaugurated government, led by the Nationalist Republican Alliance (Arena), has shifted the country’s political balance markedly to the right.

Arena, like nearly everyone else in El Salvador, believes that the U.S.-advocated ‘low-intensity’ approach to the Salvadoran conflict has failed. Arena is right; a change in tactics is bound to occur. The question is whether the government will attempt to end the conflict via negotiations or the all-out military strategy that some army commanders favor.

How one chooses to measure the insurgency is important, and will weigh heavily on the course that the government ultimately decides to pursue. By conventional military standards, the F.M.L.N. may appear to have been weakened. In 1983, for instance, the rebels controlled more than one-third of El Salvador’s territory. Operating in large columns of several hundred fighters, the F.M.L.N. was able to overrun key economic and military targets and control, many major towns and highways. But a turning point came with the introduction of increased U.S.-supplied air power by the Salvadoran government that year, bolstered by the bipartisan consensus on U.S. policy in El Salvador that crystallized after the election of President Jose Napoleon Duarte 1984, The combination of increased air power tilted the balance in the war. Saturation bombing of guerrilla strongholds such as the Guazapa volcano, nearly twenty miles from San Salvador, wrought havoc on the rebels’ network of civilian supporters. Helicopter strafing of guerrilla columns inflicted high casualties on rebel fighters.

But the F.M.L.N. adapted accordingly, and by unconventional standards — as a rural-based guerrilla insurgency — it is stronger and more deeply rooted in 1989 than ever before. To avoid presenting an easy target to the government, a normal rebel unit is now made up of only three to eight fighters. Since 1985, these smaller and more mobile guerrilla patrols have concentrated on bleeding the Salvadoran economy and wearing down the army through classic guerrilla tactics such as land mines and ambushes. The F.M.L.N.’s most important change, however, has come in the political arena, especially in the attempt to reorganize and expand its civilian support base. On the slopes of the San Vicente volcano, for instance, the rebels have built organized support among coffee pickers. Growers there, who include El Salvador’s newly inaugurated President, Alfredo Cristiani, used to pay their workers about 65 cents (U.S.) for picking twenty-five pounds of beans. They now pay more than $1 — the wage demanded by the F.M.L.N. and imposed under threat of reprisals for noncompliance.

For the past three years, the rebels have focused on organizing pickers in areas that produce crops for export, such as San Vicente, Usulutan, the San Salvador volcano and the western province of Santa Ana, while the army protects the growers. On the volcano of El Tigre in Usulutan, for example, peasants who voted for the Christian Democrat Duarte in 1984 now work diligently making homemade contact bombs for the F.M.L.N.

The F.M.L.N.’s new, stronger and more highly developed civilian infrastructure presents a problem for those who wish to eradicate the rebels militarily. Although the F. M. L. N. may still be far short of taking power, the government is even farther away from its goal of defeating the guerrillas now than it was when hostilities began.

The U.S. approach to the problem has been to continue advocating counterinsurgency techniques similar to those employed in Vietnam — small-unit patrols to root out the rebel fighters, coupled with “hearts and minds” civic action and psychological operations to wean away the rebels’ civilian base. But the Salvadoran Army looks all too much like the A.R.V.N. forces in Vietnam. “It’s like chasing a mosquito with a hammer,” complained one U.S. military adviser. The Salvadoran armed forces have become too dependent on their U.S.-supplied firepower, which they use to defend themselves more than to attack. Motivation is also a problem. Press-ganged into military service, most Salvadoran Army soldiers would rather try to obtain a visa to the United States than fight. And civic action projects? As long as the rebels defend coffee pickers and the army defends coffee growers, no amount of free government handouts will be able to conceal the class-based nature of El Salvador’s civil war.

Yet the Arena government, together with hard-line elements in the army, have another plan: an escalation of the counterinsurgency effort to approach something that leading Arena deputy Sigifredo Ochoa, formerly a top field commander, calls ‘total war.’ Like many critics of U.S. policy in Vietnam, Ochoa accuses the United States of having “no political will to end the war.” He is correct. The Salvadoran insurgency is simply too strong and too well entrenched to be defeated without the violation of human rights on a massive scale. That is a price Arena may be willing to pay, but that U.S. policymakers may not.

For all intents and purposes, the U.S. military option is dead in El Salvador. And the F.M.L.N. is not about to go away. The country will become more ungovernable the longer the war drags on. Two ways remain to resolve it: negotiations or total war. Although both the United States and the Salvadoran government missed an unprecedented opportunity by refusing the F.M.L.N.’s January peace proposal, the window is still open. But with an Arena government in power it may be closing fast. The United States must choose which path it wishes to pursue. If it does not, the Arena government and the Salvadoran Army will make the choice themselves.