Sand Diggers and the Strongman

Vista Hermosa, El Salvador — A powerful torrent during the high rains, Rio Las Canas is a trickle of muddy water from October to May. It begins ten kilometers from the city center, carving its way north past volcanic slopes, eventually feeding into the large, man-made reservoir that separates government-held terrain from contested zones. But there is no fighting between government and guerrilla forces where the river begins-only the taking of sand from its shores.

Homes made of dried mud and bamboo shafts dot Las Canas’s western bank. Inside the riverbed, barefoot workers with rolled-up pants load sand into waiting trucks. Farther downstream the riverbed is demarcated by a barbed-wire fence. Beyond the fence bulldozers load sand into trucks watched by heavily armed men.

Used primarily to make concrete, sand in El Salvador sold on site for $25 a truckload. In an export-oriented economy dominated by more valuable cash crops, even the country’s prolific Marxists have failed to designate such a cheap commodity as a vehicle of class struggle. But, for the riverbank community of Vista Hermosa, sand, not coffee, is king.

Vista Hermosa is located far from the large agricultural plantations in the western region of the country that offer seasonal labor. With a combined under- and unemployment rate in El Salvador of well over 50 percent, few if any of the community’s residents have access to better paying jobs in the capital city of San Salvador. Like most of El Salvador’s marginal population, they also receive no external assistance. A hodgepodge of peasants from various parts of the country, the people living along the river fall neither into official categories of earthquake victims nor war refugees that would make them eligible for U.S. targeted aid.

Most of the river dwellers front Vista Hermosa live in constant fear of failing beyond the edge of survival. Prices of food staples have more than quadrupled in the past three years. A typical “food basket” for a family consists primarily of corn tortillas with salt, and perhaps an occasional plate of higher priced rice and beans.

But unlike the less fortunate who pick their meals from refuse piles in San Salvador’s central market, the 350-odd people from Vista Hermosa and two other nearby communities have had regular work. Breadwinners earn their living standing knee-deep in mud, shoveling sand into twenty-foot trucks for $3 a load. Depending upon demand, a strong young man might make up to $15 on a good summer day. But lesser-abled bodies usually earn about $3, provided that rain doesn’t wash the sand downstream.

Even with cheap labor abundant, entrepreneur Jose Rene Mendoza finds it more advantageous to employ modern machinery to excavate the river. He could further maximize profits if he could monopolize the sale of sand and charge a higher price for every load. But first he would have to eliminate the competition; aII digging by independents would have to stop. Mendoza plans to make himself master of Rio Las Canas.

Before the rainy season came, Mendoza expropriated an extension of the riverbed and brought in bulldozers to replace the work of men. Mendoza says he owns the area encircled by the barbed-wire fence, and adds that the rest of the riverbed is the property of other landowners like himself. Pointing to the workers loading sand by spade he says, “Those people have no property titles, they are trespassers on private land.”

The people from Vista Hermosa claim that the river is in the public domain. They avoid the part watched over by Mendoza’s armed guards. Dependent on their daily earnings, workers (about a third of whom are women and preadolescent children) walk the trail every morning to the water’s edge. The private truckers, who don’t seem to mind whose land they are on, buy from both the independents and Mendoza. The latter’s conflict is not with those who take from the river, but only those who dig.

An association of agricultural workers is trying to organize the sand diggers and their community. A number of workers from Vista Hermosa, including Jose Arnoldo Cerritos and Arturo Navarro Garcia, decided to join. But the peasant association belongs to a larger trade union coalition, which Salvadoran and U.S. government officials say is a front group for the country’s leftist guerrillas.

The issue appears to be about property rights and the question of public versus private domain. In El Salvador, such matters are rarely if ever settled before a formal court. Rather, from the perspective of the authorities, the dispute here is between a respected landowner and businessman and three base-wage sand diggers who are members of a known subversive organization.

Leaving aside strictly legal questions, I will let the reader decide whether this case is a political or civil dispute. I will also leave it to the reader to decide if the way in which it was (partially) resolved should be characterized as a political or a common crime. But let me forewarn, your decision is moot. Either way, the story that follows is endemic in a society and social structure that seven years and $3.3 billion in U.S. aid failed to change.

Nineteen-year-old Maria Luisa Leiva was in her mud-walled home with her husband, uncle, and two children the evening of April 14, 1988. Three armed men in olive green uniforms came to the door and told her to put out the light. They asked for her husband by name and said, “Tell Arnoldo Cerritos to come out.” The men bound his wrists and then took both Arnoldo and the uncle away. Maria Luisa was told that she would be taken too if she tried to follow. One of the uniformed men remained five minutes to make sure she stayed behind.

Arturo Navarro and his eighteen-year-old helper were intercepted by armed men near the same house about fifteen minutes later. They were ordered to lie face down and were asked their names. One of the uniformed men left for a few minutes and then returned. He said, “Are you Arturo Navarro? Then you’re coming with us.” The men led Arturo away in the direction of the river. The younger captive was searched and set free.

The next day both Maria Luisa and Arturo’s wife went to the air force base at Ilopango to inquire about their husbands and the uncle. The communities along the river are patrolled regularly by the air force, who were present in Vista Hermosa under daylight on April 14. The air force patrols are elite U.S.-trained paratroopers, distinguished from the other military services by their maroonish red berets. The uniformed men who came the night before were hatless, although one was carrying a “red beret” in the same hand as his black-barreled gun.

An air force sergeant spoke to the wives, and then made a phone call asking for the three disappeared men by name. He told the women to wait a moment, as he thought that the men were, in custody on the base. Three young men appeared, heavily armed and in civilian clothes. They spoke to the sergeant, and then told the women that the people they were looking for were not there.

The base at llopango is just a few kilometers from the scene of the abduction. But the men’s bodies were found two days later in a ravine near the airport some thirty kilometers away. When asked about the murders two weeks later, Mendoza said, “We didn’t kill them.” No doubt a truthful retort. The murders had been denounced as the work of the armed forces based at Ilopango by Auxiliary Archbishop Rosa Chavez in his Sunday homily a few days before.

The killings are not particularly surprising for El Salvador. Nor, despite at least two adult eyewitnesses to the abduction, that they will go uninvestigated, unpunished, and officially unsolved. But what is unusual is that the attempt to intimidate the community didn’t work. At the time of this writing, twenty to thirty sand diggers can still be seen within eyesight of the fenced-off property claimed by Mendoza on any given day; more than a hundred others can be found further on — either up- or down-stream. Unable to support themselves and their families any other way, the motley assembly of workers (who include one or two pregnant women) will continue to dig as long as they need to or can.

That survival could be the flip side of subversion is something that both the paratroopers and Jose Rene Mendoza fail to grasp. Jose Santana, for instance, begs a journalist to help him, as he has heard rumors that he will be next. His voice shrill and cracking, the terrified man stutters as he explains that he is not so much worried about himself but for his family and how they would support themselves if he should disappear. Jose Santana is the cousin of one of the victims and knew the other two. But despite the danger, a month after the murders he is still digging as before.

The nine-year-old son of Arturo says he doesn’t understand why his father was killed. But now that he is the breadwinner, Oscar carries his father’s shovel to the river every morning to dig. But the boy earns only about a dollar working a half day, as his mother, who also digs, wants him to stay in school.

Oscar is too young to be a member of the peasant association to which his father belonged. But there is no doubt that in the eyes of Jose Rene Mendoza, the son following his father to the river is an outlaw. In a country where property and power remain the rule of law, a beleaguered landlord can phone the armed forces’ twenty-four-hour hotline to report a subversive act. There is no number to call, however, if armed men in olive green uniforms take a relative away in the night.

The Rebels’ Dirty Hands

Certain guerrilla tactics are reprehensible. In the last year, the rebels have taken to placing car bombs in front of movie theaters and restaurants in the wealthier sections of San Salvador. In October, a group identifying itself as Manuel Jose Arce Commandos detonated two such car bombs outside a shopping center and a fast-food restaurant. In a communiqué on Radio Venceremos, the rebels’ clandestine station, the FMLN indirectly endorsed the action.

In each of these cases, no one was seriously injured. But that seems more luck than intent. One bomb next to a movie theater exploded while patrons were inside. The one outside the fast-food restaurant went off during regular evening hours. Rebel commanders say such tactics are designed to make the upper classes share the burden of the war.

Summary execution of locally elected village mayors is another deplorable tactic. In El Salvador’s eastern provinces, eight mayors have been executed by the rebels since April. This underscores divisions within the rebel alliance, even after nine years of struggle. FMLN guerrillas in Chalatenango, for example, do not have a policy of assassinating mayors; guerrillas active in the eastern provinces do.

During my trip in Chalatenango, a rebel tried to explain to me why they kill civilians. The rebels assassinate people for committing rape, he said, for using a gun against the people as in a personal dispute, and for providing information to the enemy.

But the rebels do not seem to be limiting their violence to these selected targets. In October, four peasants in Apopa, about seven miles north of San Salvador, were dragged from their homes and killed at point-blank range. The killers identified themselves as members of the army’s First Brigade. But according to Tutela Legal, El Salvador’s Roman Catholic human-rights office, the massacre was carried out by FMLN guerrillas posing as army soldiers. Tutela has consistently reported abuse by government troops against civilians. Its reports are used by such organizations as Americas Watch and are considered to be the most reliable in the country.

If the Tutela report is true, it marks an ominous shift in guerrilla tactics. A few weeks after the incident, rebel leaders promised to investigate the case and said that if FMLN members were involved, the perpetrators would be punished.

Nonetheless, human-rights abuses by the government here have consistently outstripped those by the rebels. Using Catholic Church figures, for instance, the comparison of noncombatant killings by the army versus such killings by the rebels is well over ten-to-one since the beginning of the war, though in recent months it has dropped closer to two-to-one.

Major command shake-up likely in Salvadoran army

Please read the original article here, as we have not yet transcribed this article. You may need to rotate the image. FS

El Salvador: People Have Reason to Be Afraid

The grandmother cupped her palm under Goyito’s chin and pressed down hard with her fingers on his upper jaw. “Look, this is how we did it,” she said, demonstrating how she kept the baby from crying when government troops passed by.

“They wanted me to kill him,” said the mother, because he wouldn’t stop his sobs. “But how can you take away the life of an innocent child?”

The closest that most US citizens have ever come to such a dilemma is a television rerun of M*A*S*H. But people from Chalatenango, Morazán, Guazapa, and other war-torn areas of El Salvador pay the price of U.S. intervention every day.

Few US taxpayers could locate the country on a map. Yet, El Salvador receives more per capita U.S. assistance than any nation but Israel. These tax dollars finance what U.S. Army officers describe as “this country’s most significant sustained military enterprise since Vietnam.”

As in the Indochina War, insurgent guerrillas have organized whole sectors of the population to support their cause. Unable to defeat the guerrillas, U.S.-backed government troops make civilians targets in the war.

At least 70,000 people — more than one percent of El Salvador’s population — have died. According to America’s Watch, most were civilian non-combatants killed by the military or right-wing paramilitary groups. Maria Julia Hernandez of Tutela Legal, the official human rights office of the Catholic Church, says the U.S.-backed Salvadoran armed forces are responsible for 85 percent of human rights-related crimes.

Nonetheless, the government has failed to quell the resistance. Leaders of the death squad-linked Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party argue that a new state of siege is required. Already in control of El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly and scheduled to assume the Presidency June 1, 1989, they advocate a strategy of “total war.”

A mother held up pictures of three handsome boys. “The truth, they were organized” she said. In the photos, each wore a jacket and tie and has neatly combed black hair. They were killed, she said, by the Army.

Despite the loss, the mother and her surviving daughters still have hope. “The people are going to win,” said the oldest. She is the community organizer for the rebel Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN).
Such carnage has left the country scarred. “There’s a thing here of fear,” said a Maryknoll priest living in a poor barrio in San Salvador, “people have reason to be afraid.”

In another marginal neighborhood on the outskirts of the capital, a group of women and children sing. “When the poor believe in the poor, then we’ll sing freely, then we’ll create brotherhood.”

“We’re here because of the violence,” said Alejandra, a 33-year-old mother of two. She lives in a mud and split bamboo shack along the Pan-American highway near Santa Tecla. Like the rest of her community, she is a peasant displaced from the fighting.

The barrio is featured in a glossy new brochure from the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID). The Agency says it provides economic aid to offset the impact of the war. But according to both Alejandra and her neighbors, their community receives no help from either the Salvadoran or U.S. government.

Sometimes we don’t have money for food, she said. Alejandra usually earns money when coffee or other cash crops are in season. On a good day she can make about $2; she earns 65 cents for every 25 pounds of picked beans.

Fifteen-year-old Leticia is another displaced peasant. “Well, they send money and food,” she said, “but no se baja — it doesn’t trickle down.”

The only thing that trickles down to Leticia and her family is filth. She lives off Avenida Masferrer where the sewage from the surrounding wealthy suburb of Escalon empties out.

“It’s very dangerous,” said Leticia, “because of the floods.” The outflow from the sewer pipe is heavy during the rainy season which begins in May. Pointing to the open-air clearing where the family cooks. “Last time,” she said, “it washed away the kitchen.”

Both economic and social conditions have deteriorated since the war began. The combination of under-and unemployment for example, is over 65 percent. The country’s infant mortality rate is now one of the highest in Latin America. And rural health care is so poor that more than 100 children died of a measles epidemic in the first three months of this year.

Our greatest hope is that “there will be peace,” said Virginia. “But not a peace where one person is eating and another is dying of hunger.”

Virginia is from the recently rebuilt community of Guarjila, Chalatenango. She is one of 6,000 Salvadorans repatriated from refugee camps in Honduras over the past two years.

Guarjila lies within area controlled by FMLN guerrillas. But government battalions and patrols frequently pass through the zone. “They do it just to scare us,” said Virginia. “We don’t want any more rivers of blood.”

The image is only part metaphor. On May 14, 1980 several thousand fleeing refugees, mostly women and children, tried to cross the Sumpul River into Honduras. They were turned back by gunfire from Honduran soldiers, and then attacked in midstream by Salvadoran helicopters and troops. At least 600 people were killed.

The beat of rotary blades brings such images to mind. A mile outside the village a helicopter hovering high in the air fires at a small rebel patrol.

Earlier in the conflict, residents in the area fled and hid in secret underground shelters when the army passed by. But now, as a result, of increased world attention on human rights, they stay.

But repression, although more selective, continues. Earlier this year, for instance, the army’s elite Atlacatl Battalion captured four locally-elected leaders from the remote village of Arcatao. With the ARENA party in power, more such abuse is expected. Already in April, riot police raided the office of CRIPDES, a Christian organization of displaced refugees, detaining 75. Most of these were women, children, and wounded. A mother with a three-day-old infant was among the prisoners of war.

At one point, riot police tried to separate one young wounded male from the rest. When he and others resisted, the police clubbed detainees into submission. Behind the closed doors of interrogation cells, both physical and psychological abuse is common. But according to Americas Watch and other human rights groups, the techniques, such as immersing one’s head repeatedly in filthy water, have been refined so as not to leave telltale marks behind.

“This is the suffering of this war,” said Jose from the town of San Jose Las Flores. He lost his wife and four children to the Army. “I was angry,” he said. “You know, that was my own blood.”

“This doesn’t seem right to me,” added Soila, whose weather-beaten face bore the pain of many years of conflict. “What they’re doing is against a population that is struggling against the system in which we live.”

Some boys played soccer in the square, as a pair of teenage women guerrillas walked by.

“We’re going to sing in Liberty Park [in San Salvador],” said Jose, smiling as he nodded his head, “when we have the triumph in our hands.”

Duarte’s Secret Friends

Original article found here.

José Napoleón Duarte has completed the first half of his five-year term as President of El Salvador, and his position has never been weaker. In the past year Duarte has seen a serious erosion of his formerly solid peasant and working-class support. Once the strongest in Central America, Salvadoran labor unions were decimated by state repression in the early 1980s. But they have steadily regrouped and now confront Duarte’s U.S.-backed government with its fiercest political challenge yet.

Classified documents from the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador reveal that the Reagan Administration has responded by trying to divide and destroy the new independent labor movement. The Administration’s main instrument has been the American Institute for Free Labor Development, a branch of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. Created in 1962, in the wake of the Cuban revolution, AIFLD receives more than 90 percent of its funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development. Its 1986 budget for operations in El Salvador was $3.5 million, and documents obtained by The Nation show that some of that money was used to entice the Popular Democratic Union (U.P.D.), an important formerly pro-Duarte federation, away from an influential new grouping sympathetic to the guerrilla opposition. Reached for comment on March 2, AIFLD spokesman Jack Heberie denied that the organization has any role in the U.P.D.’s defection from the new coalition. He also denied AIFLD involvement in furthering any aspect of U.S. policy in El Salvador.

According to a memorandum dated November 22, 1986, classified “secret” and addressed from AMEMBASSY SAN SALVADOR to SECSTATE (Secretary of State George Shultz), U.S. officials were “overjoyed” by the success of their attack on the opposition labor movement and intend to continue to “pick off” further independent unions “one-by-one. ”

AIFLD claims that it is an independent labor organization created to promote the growth of democratic trade unions in Latin America. In fact, it regularly functions as a surreptitious tool of U.S. foreign policy. According to official sources, classified U.S. documents are routinely circulated to AIFLD’s offices in both San Salvador and Washington, and AIFLD regularly reports on its activities to U.S. government officials in San Salvador.

For the past year AIFLD’s country director for El Salvador, the Cuban-born Clemente Hernández, has collaborated with the U.S. labor attaché for El Salvador, Francis (Paco) Scanlan, to ruin the opposition trade union movement in El Salvador. Following a pattern that is typical of AIFLD tactics in Latin America, in November 1986 the organization lured U.P.D. Secretary General Ramon Mendoza away from the opposition camp with an initial payment of $3,000 and the promise of more.

The trade union organizations that AIFLD successfully bought off last fall are particularly crucial to the Reagan Administration’s plan. Although its membership has shrunk in recent years, the U.P.D. carries great symbolic weight, both inside the country and, crucially, in the international arena. The U.P.D. was originally a coalition of nine labor groups, five of which in 1983 signed a historic “social pact” with Duarte, then a presidential candidate. Drafted with the help and support of AIFLD, the social pact was considered a monumental step in the Reagan Administration’s strategy of “nation building” for El Salvador.

In return for electoral support from the U.P.D. in the May 1984 elections, Duarte promised to implement a series of programs and reforms designed to benefit the working class. He pledged to pursue negotiations with the guerrillas of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front-Democratic Revolutionary Front (F.M.L.N.-F.D.R.) and seek a political solution to the war; to prosecute human rights violators and enact judicial reforms; to appoint U.P.D. labor officials to prominent positions in the government; and to expand El Salvador’s political space to allow for the participation of opposition groups associated with the left.

According to Salvadoran labor activists, Duarte kept only one of those promises, naming several labor officials to government posts. The government has been unwilling to negotiate with the F.M.L.N.-F.D.R.; human rights violators have not been brought to trial; and parties to the left of Duarte’s Christian Democratic Party remain excluded from effective political participation. In addition, opposition trade union leaders are still regularly detained and harassed by security forces. Because of Duarte’s inability and unwillingness to make changes and pursue reform, the U.P.D. leadership grew disaffected with the President by mid-1985.

For most of El Salvador’s trade union leaders, however, the turning point came in January 1986, when Duarte abandoned the populist rhetoric of his earlier presidential campaign and introduced el paquetazo, or “the package” — a severe and far-reaching program of economic austerity. He had long been under pressure from the Reagan Administration to do so.

The austerity plan deeply affected El Salvador’s peasant and wage-earning class. Since Duarte came to office, the cost of living in El Salvador has more than doubled, and following the imposition of austerity measures, the cost of essential consumer services, such as bus transportation, went up 20 percent. Even more disturbing, the price of food staples almost tripled over the course of one year.

Soon after the announcement of el paquetazo, most of the groups affiliated with the formerly pro-Duarte and AIFLD-supported U.P.D. allied themselves with El Salvador’s more militant labor organizations to form the National Union of Salvadoran Workers (U.N.T.S.). It is the largest expression of above ground dissent in El Salvador since 1980, and on February 21, 1986, it organized the biggest demonstration since the outbreak of the civil war, bringing thousands into the streets of San Salvador to demand peace, reforms and an end to el paquetazo. Another U.S. Embassy memorandum, this one dated December 31, 1985, also classified “secret,” and signed by Ambassador Edwin Corr noted: “The worst in terms of labor unrest is probably still to come, and the developments on the labor front in the first quarter of 1986 could present the president with the most serious challenge to his power to date.”

Most analysts agree that Duarte’s political power waned significantly in the second year of his term and that the President has neither the will nor the power to pursue populist reforms. He is increasingly stymied by the Reagan Administration, which opposes a negotiated settlement of the seven-year civil war, and by a resurgent right, which controls the Supreme Court and has begun to boycott sessions of the National Assembly. In addition, most observers agree, Duarte is not willing to take the political risk entailed in seeking peace talks. Pressure from the labor movement to enact meaningful reforms, therefore, threatens to corner the already weakened President.

To preserve the rule of Duarte, whose continuation as President has so far been essential for annual Congressional approval of U.S. military aid, the Reagan Administration and AIFLD set out to undermine the threat represented by organized labor. In particular, they have aimed to separate Mendoza’s moderate labor groups from the militant organizations allied in the U.N.T.S.

Membership in the U.P.D. had been reduced from a peak of 150,000 in 1984 to only 1,500 in 1986. In the spring of 1985 the organization split to support two rival labor federations, one pro-Duarte, the other anti-Duarte. Ramon Mendoza kept control of the U.P.D.’s headquarters and brought the organization’s still important name to opposition labor, giving it considerable international prestige. “The vestiges of the U.P.D. (1,500 members) joined U.N.T.S.,” the embassy noted, “in effect, giving the Left a democratic facade to manipulate international labor and opinion.”

The uniting of centrist unions and radical ones sympathetic to the F.M.L.N.-F.D.R. alarmed Reagan Administration officials, who saw a revival of activities in urban areas as a key element of rebel strategy. Last September a secret C.I.A. report stated: “Even though their initial gains have fallen short of their objectives, the rebels have built a substantial foundation in the labor sector.”

Just two months later, however, the secret embassy memorandum to Secretary Shultz was hailing the U.P.D.’s withdrawal from the new coalition as a great U.S. success. The split was “especially timely,” the embassy said, “as it comes on the eve of the November 22-23 CISPES-U.N.T.S. ‘Conference for Peace’ which over 100 Americans are expected to attend.” The Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, which the embassy identifies as “a U.S. F.M.L.N. support group,” says it had no role in organizing the event. The memorandum also complained that “strong support” from U.S. unions was helping to make U.N.T.S. “a threat to democratic labor,” and acknowledged frankly that the Administration’s goal was to “destroy” unions of the left:

U.N.T.S. unions have accused U.P.D. Secretary General Ramon Mendoza of “selling out,” and have charged AIFLD, the Embassy, and the P.D.C. [Christian Democratic Party] with attempting to destroy U.N.T.S. (a charge we accept).

Sources in the embassy say that the U.P.D.’s departure came after months of secret negotiations between the U.P.D. and U.S. officials. In late 1985 and early 1986, before Mendoza helped found the opposition labor coalition, the disaffected U.P.D. leader had been quietly trying to cut a deal with the U.S. camp. On January 11, a month before the U.N.T.S. was established, Mendoza’s personal representatives met with U.S. Ambassador Corr. A letter written to Corr by a close associate of Mendoza indicates that the U.P.D. was seeking to establish a rapprochement with AIFLD “in accordance with the Embassy’s wishes.”

Much to the U.S. Embassy’s chagrin, however, relations between AIFLD and Mendoza turned sour. The U.P.D. leader played his trump card in February, when he allied himself with the militant anti-Duarte forces in the U.N.T.S. In turn, AIFLD, and in particular its hard-line leadership in Washington, embarked on a full-scale propaganda campaign to discredit the U.P.D.’s dissident leadership. Published AIFLD “briefs” described the formerly “democratic” union as having been infiltrated by the Marxist-Leninists and having been steered away from the Duarte camp.

In June, official U.S. sources say, labor attaché Paco Scanlan initiated a new series of meetings, this time between Mendoza and AIFLD. According to these sources, Scanlan was personally committed to drawing Mendoza and his union away from the opposition camp and was supported in that endeavor by Hernández, AIFLD’s El Salvador country director. The talks between Hernández and Mendoza bore fruit when the U.P.D. pulled out of the U.N.T.S., on November 16.

The classified U.S. Embassy memorandums show that there were sharp disagreements between U.S. officials in San Salvador and AIFLD’s Washington headquarters. The December 1985 memorandum laid part of the blame for the U.P.D.’s declining numbers on AIFLD:

By the end of 1985, the U.P.D. had been reduced to an emaciated shadow of its former organization. Internal power struggles and personality clashes together with deliberate AIFLD policy to supplant the U.P.D. with a non-political labor central … were the main reasons for the U.P.D.’s decline.

The November 1986 memorandum reported that Scanlan had become initiated by the apparent vendetta being conducted against the U.P.D. by AIFLD’s Washington office. It commented sharply:

AIFLD, which had great misgivings in Washington about the U.P.D. strategy, should direct its policy at holding our side together, while continuing to pick off U.N.T.S. member unions one-by-one.

The documents reveal that in exchange for his formal departure from the U.N.T.S., Mendoza received “initial assistance” of $3,000 from AIFLD. The secret agreement stipulated that neither AIFLD nor the other Salvadoran labor groups that the institute supports would attempt to steal union members from the U.P.D. At the same time it left open the possibility that by working closely with AIFLD and El Salvador’s ruling Christian Democratic Party, Mendoza might be able to poach on other member unions from the opposition labor camp.

AIFLD lavishes money on unions other than the U.P.D. in El Salvador. The largest recipient is the peasant-based Salvadoran Communal Union (U.C.S.), to which Mendoza himself once belonged. The U.C.S. receives $30,000 a month from the institute, and its leaders have often been accused of pocketing AIFLD funds. According to reliable union sources, after Mendoza broke from the united opposition, he told other labor leaders that if they followed his lead in breaking from U.N.T.S. he could secure payments for their organizations equivalent to $160 per member.

The embassy appears well pleased by its efforts. “The bottom line of this process is that things are going our way,” the memorandum to Shultz concluded:

In the past 12 months U.S. interests have been greatly served by the overall trends in Salvadoran labor. U.N.T.S. now stands denuded of its democratic facade and we have about as clean and neat a division between democratic and communist labor as we are ever likely to get in El Salvador. We have 250,000… on our side, they have 55,000 or Isici theirs. In the past 12 months, U.S. interests have been greatly served by the overall trends in Salvadoran labor. U.N.T.S. now stands denuded of its democratic facade and we have about as clean and neat a division between democratic and communist labor as we are ever likely to get in El Salvador. We have 250,000 … on our side, they have 55,000 or [sic] theirs.

The embassy documents make it clear that AIFLD and the U.S. labor attaché have now targeted other labor leaders to be lured away from the opposition camp. To protect President Duarte’s eroding position and “U.S. interests,” they appear ready to do whatever is necessary to rend El Salvador’s organized labor movement.