U.S. adviser comes under fire in El Salvador

Original article can be found here.

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador – A U.S. military advisor at a Salvadoran army base came under fire yesterday in an early morning rebel attack that killed three Salvadoran soldiers, but he apparently managed to escape unharmed.

It is at least the fourth reported attack involving U.S. advisers since they were deployed in El Salvador in 1980.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Barry Jacobs confirmed that a U.S. operations, planning and training officers was present at the army engineering base in Zacatecoluca, 35 miles southeast of the capital. But Jacobs denied that the adviser came under fire or was in any immediate danger.

A tape-recording of the advisor’s radio report to military superiors in San Salvador paints a different picture, however. The report indicates that the advisor considered himself to be in immediate danger. A tape of the transmission was obtained by a correspondent for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

The unidentified adviser, using the code name Commando Two Zero, contacted a U.S. Special Forces officer identified at Rotelo at headquarters in San Salvador about 4:30 a.m.

“Hello, Commando Two Zero” reporting.

“Go ahead, over.”

“Listen in. The —- hitting the fan pretty bad out here. I’m getting out of here…I’m… I’m bailing out of here. I’m getting out of here…I’m breaking through. So if I can make… Don’t worry about it. I’ll get out of here… and, ah… I’ll rendezvous with whoever comes out tomorrow, over.”

“Roger, I understand… S.D.O. (staff duty officer) is on the way. Stand by.”

The U.S. adviser said the rebels were using automatic weapons, rampas, or homemade catapult bombs, and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

The adviser initially referred to the rebel action as an exploratory “probe” but said it later turned into an attack.

“Commando Two Zero, Rotelo. Go ahead, over.”

“Yeah, the probe has turned into a… an attack from the northeast. We got, ah… three wounded already. We have one blindado (armor-plated vehicle) in ambush… and we got one kid-–he’s in pretty bad shape… he’s probably going to go away. And we got two wounded, over.”

“This is Rotelo. Roger, I understand, anything else? Over.”

“Commando Two Zero out.”

The guerillas and soldiers battled for three hours, according to officials there, including base commander Col. Benjamin Canjura.

Canjura said three soldiers were killed, including a major. Two soldiers died when a rocket-propelled grenade hit the truck in which they were traveling; 13 others were wounded in the fighting, Canjura said.

There is no indication that the U.S. adviser sustained injury.

The guerillas also attacked an important army base in the capital, killing two civilians who lived nearby, officials said.

The early morning attack on the 4,000-member 1st Brigade’s headquarters was the fifth on a major military installation in San Salvador since November. With jurisdiction over the capital and its environs, the brigade headquarters is considered the country’s most important military installation.

Col. Orlando Zepeda, commander of the 1st Army Brigade, said there were not casualties inside the downtown base and that damage was negligible, but he refused to allow journalists inside.

The rebels used two pickups fitted with catapults. The detonation of one explosive charge launches the bombs and simultaneously blows up the vehicle.

The explosion of one of the vehicles killed Pedro Martinez, about 70 years old, and his wife, Maria Teresa, about 65, who lived in a house near the headquarters.

A Western official said he knew of only three occasions when U.S. advisers have engaged in combat in El Salvador.

In March 1987, Army Sgt. Gregory Fronius was killed during the rebel assaults against the Army’s 4th Bridgade at El Paraiso.

U.S. advisers also came under attack during rebel assaults against Salvadoran military bases at Usulután in February 1988 and again at El Paraiso in September.

A U.S. official said that any time U.S. military personnel engage in combat it must be reported to Congress. After the latest attack at El Paraiso, the Defense Department waited two weeks before announcing that U.S. military personnel had come under fire.

U.S. military advisors are widely believed to have found themselves in combat situations more frequently than has been reported.

One Western diplomat said, “I would presume that every time a military base is attacked, a U.S. adviser come under attack.”

In recent weeks, rebel attacks have become more frequent. Yesterday, the rebels attacked two other military installations at the same time they assaulted the Zacatecoluca based and on the base of the 1st Brigade in San Salvador, they said.

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.”

Secret Warriors: U.S. Advisers Have Taken Up Arms in El Salvador

Original story found here.

MR. NIELDS: Well, you put in some blanks. You said “blank” in two places. There’s nothing classified about either of these words. One of them is CIA—
MR. NIELDS: —and the other is Southern Command. “Delicate state of transition from CIA run op to Southern Command run op.”
LT. COL. NORTH: That’s referring to the country in which FR [Felix Rodriguez] was living, and I though that was a classified program. It has nothing to do with the Nicaraguan resistence.

El Salvador was the country in question, not Nicaragua. Chief House Counsel John Nields was quoting from notes that North had taken on a conversation with then U.S. Southern Command head General Paul Gorman; the brief exchange between Nields and North, on the afternoon of July 8, went largely unnoticed in the voluminous Iran-contra press coverage. But they shed dirst light on the participation of U.S. military and paramilitary personnel in combat in El Salvador.

Fighting in El Salvador has been more intense and claimed more lives than the better-known “contra war” in nearby Nicaragua. El Salvador has been a laboratory for the post-Vietnam Pentagon, which has been trying to figure out how to run a massive counterinsurgency program without committing U.S. troops. Judging from death tolls, the Pentagon’s efforts have been quite “successful.” But in another sense, the plan has gone awry. A military counterinsurgency specialist notes that the U.S. never intended to implement some “Machiavellian plan.” That, however, is exactly what the Salvador counterinsurgency has turned out to be.

The U.S. has backed the Salvadoran government in its war against leftist insurgents for the past seven years. The Reagan administration has provided El Salvador with over $1.5 billion in war-related aid since 1981, and has assigned a group of U.S. military advisers to the country. The advisers, limited by a White House-Congress agreement to no more than 55 at a time, are prohibited from entering combat.

Yet U.S. advisers have engaged in combat in El Salvador, according to interviews with military sources.

The exchange between Nields and North refers to a secret military operations involving both the Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. Army’s 7th Special Forces of the Southern Command. Following the initial exposure of this operation during the July 8 hearings, CIA officials quoted in The Los Angeles Times admitted that the agency’s operatives had trained and led military teams in El Salvador. These officials would not say whether the units sough out the enemy or willingly engaged in combat. The purpose of these missions, CIA officials said, was to collect intelligence information on guerilla movements in order to call in air strikes.

Documents obtained from the War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, however, indicate that “Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols,” trained and led by the CIA with assistance from the U.S. Army Special Forces, were heavily engaged in combat. The documents, dated January 1, 1985, state: “One of the more gratifying improvements was the establishment of a Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (PRAL) capability….This unit, operating in small teams, has accounted for hundreds of guerilla casualties and has been instrumental in disrupting guerrilla combat operations, logistical nets and base camps.”

These teams consist of two to seven specially trained Salvadoran troops, led by a CIA paramilitary operative. It is inconceivable that the CIA operatives who accompanies and led these united did not engage in combat. The War College report, for example, which is entitled “El Salvador: Observations and Experiences in Counterinsurgency,” describted the PRAL teams as one of the most effective components of the government’s counterinsurgency. “The unit has proven that El Salvadoran troops, with the proper training and leadership, can operate effectively in small groups and they have set a standard of valor for the rest of the [Armed Forces]” (emphasis added).

The War College documents state that PRAL units were first trained by the Third Battalion of the U.S. 7th Special Forces in Panama. Former 7th Special Forces advisers with experience in El Salvador and Central America reveal that U.S. military advisers, in addition to CIA paramilitary operatives, engaged in combat operations in El Salvador and neighboring countries.

Many of these advisers are from Puerto Rico, where the U.S. military recruits heavily with an eye towards Central America operations. A former Special Forces operative from Puerto Rico, who participated in the 1968 Bolivian campaign that resulted in the death of Che Guevera, was called back from retirement to aid in counterinsurgency training.

The bulk of this covert involvement, former Special Forces operatives say, occurred from 1982 to 1984, when U.S. military aid and assistance to El Salvador was highly controversial .

When the Reagan administration first came to power in 1981, El Salvador, not Nicaragua, was its primary concern in Central America. Leftist guerilla forces of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) was growing and by 1982 controlled up to one-third of the country’s terrain. There was great fear in Washington of a leftist takeover, and the administration was and still is committed to preventing the “loss” of a second Central American nation after Nicaragua.

The Salvadoran armed forces were plagued by incompetence, corruption, and poor leadership. In the early stage of the conflict, the military and the extreme right committed some of the worst human rights atrocities in the region’s history. More than 28,000 people were killed by 1982, according to the San Salvador archdiocese’s human rights office, most of them at the hands of Salvadoran armed forces.

The U.S. began to equip and train the Salvadoran military in 1981, at a time when their repressive activities were most out of control. The U.S. Army’s Mobile Training Team began by creating Atlacatl Immediate Action Battalion. A second Immediate Action Battalion, Atonal, was trained in 1982. A third battalion, Ramon Belloso, was trained at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in the same year. Brought to the U.S. to overcome the limitations imposed by the 55-adviser limit, the Belloso battalion cost $8 million to train.

In a similar effort to overcome the 55-man limit, small marine-commando units were trained by elite U.S. Navy SEAL unites in Panama, Additional marine commandos were trained in El Salvador. In 1983, the very successful and feared Arce Cazador or “hunter” patrols, were trained in El Salvador and Honduras by the U.S.

Eventually, these elite units and battalions began to make a difference in the war, but a chronic shortage of competent and specifically trained battle officers contined to complicate operations in the field. “Souble or tripple hatting,” for example, where a company commander might also take on the duties of an operations officer or an intelligence officer, was common.

As a result, military sources say, U.S. advisers were forced to take a more active role in the filed. The air force representative of the U.S. Military Group, for example, was moved from the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador to the air base in Ilopango. The U.S. Military Group consists of about 13 midranking officers, whom the Department of Defense does not clarify as advisers. According to the January 1985 War College report, the senior air force representtive became a “full-time advisor” to Salvadoran Air Force commander Colonel Bustillo.

Former Special Forces advisers say tht U.S. advisers were also assigned as Combat Brigade Officers to advise and assist Salvadoran battle operations in the field. Providing full-time advice to Salvadoran colonels, these Special Forces advisers functioned as intelligence or operations officers for infantry brigades. Intelligence officers attempt to predict enemy movements; operations officers plan and coordinate attacks.

U.S. advisers are, of course, prohibited from participation in combat manuevers and are told not to discuss the nature of their assignments with these brigades. A brigade consists of two to four battalions, which are the principal combat units in countering a guerilla war. A former Special Forces adviser says these assignments were spontaneous and erratic, due to the highly secretive nature of this operation and the U.S. government’s attempt to keep it concealed.

Smaller team-size units of independent Special Forces troops, a U.S. military officer says, were also deployed in Honduras along the Salvadoran border in 1982 and 1983. It is not clear that they engaged in combat. The Reagan administration hoped these teams could stop the overland arms flow from Nicaragua through Honduras to El Salvador. But another goal of this operation, military sources say, was to find and produce evidence of such a flow to further the administration’s overall policy aims. The administration has repeatedly accused the Sandinistas of aiding the leftist rebels in El Salvador and has advanced this argument to justify military aid to both the contras in Nicaragua and the government in El Salvador. Reliable U.S. military intelligence sources say the FMLN does receive weapons from abroad, but the flow has decreased substantially since 1982. The guerillas are generally able to get what they need on the Salvadoran black market, including U.S.-supplied M-16s. A year ago, I was quoted a prie of $2000 for an M-16 in San Salvador; bulk prices would presumably be lower.

Overall, the counterinsurgency effort in El Salvador represents the largest commitment of U.S. resources to a developing country since the Vietnam War. Unlike Vietnam, the Pentagon has been unable to run this war without using large numbers of troops; the assigning of CIA operatives and Special Forces advisers to patrol behind enemy lines has been crucial to the new, scaled-down strategy. Nevertheless, though direct participation by U.S. resouces has been markedly low, in the past few months a number of Special Forces personnel have been wounded or killed.

Many Salvadoran officers and units singled out by the War College for their effectiveness, such as former lieutenant colonel Sigfrido Ochoa, are some of the worst known violators of human rights. Elite U.S.-trained battalions such as Arce, Atonal, and Atlacatl are favorite sons of the U.S. Department of Defense. But these same battalions have been responsible for a host of massacres since 1981.

For example, the Atlacal battalion massacred 700 people in a “search and destroy” mission in El Mozote in northeast Morazán in 1981. More recently, the Arce Battalion killed five suspected “subversives” last May. The victims, who were peasants, were shot and dumped in a well at Los Palitos in the eastern province of San Miguel. Colonel Mauricio Staben, the commander of Arce battalion, is believed to have overseen the killing of hundreds of suspected leftists or sympathizers. Last sprin, the U.S.-trained colonel was also implicated in a kidnapping-for-profit ring, but no charges were brought after fellow officers came to his defense.
Although the conflict in Nicaragua has domintated U.S. attention in the past six months, measured in terms of resource commitment the war in El Salvador is the Reagan administration’s primary concern. The administration claims that most of its assistance is development-related. But three-fourths of U.S. aid to El Salvador goes either directly or indirectly to the war.

The Salvadoran armed forces have expanded from 14,000 in 1981, when the U.S. began to play an active role, to 54,000 troops last year. El Salvador’s leftist guerillas , on the other hand, have decreased from 10,000 to less than 6000 combatants, many of whom have been fighting throughout the last seven years. The War College documents state that one goal of the adminstration’s policy is “neutralization of the guerillas.” As a result, U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador Edwin Corr predicts that war will drag on another seven to 10 years. Already 60,000 people have died; 25 per cent of the popuation is displaced.

The CIA no longer leads PRAL missions in El Salvador, as coordination of that and other Salvadoran military efforts have been handed over to the U.S. Army’s 7th Special Forces of the Panama-based Southern Command. The Special Forces’ goal is to “professionalize” the Salvadoran military, and according to the War College documents, “sensitize” them to the issue of human rights. Even the Pentagon realizes the war will not be won by “simply killing guerillas.” Yet, despite administration claims to the contrary, killing is the only thing the Salvadoran military does well.

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.