Nidia Díaz: Reflections from a peace negotiator

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Nidia Díaz, FMLN legislative deputy and member of team that negotiated the 1992 Peace Accords, ending El Salvador's 12-year civil war.

25 years ago, on January 16, 1992, we experienced the culmination of a transcendental stage of the Salvadoran people’s struggle to construct a society based on peace, democracy and social justice.

To speak of the Peace Accords, it is also necessary to look back at our history of popular struggle. January, the month in which the Accords were signed in Chapultepec, is also the month in which we remember the insurrection of 1932 - the collective effort of a people in rebellion against injustice, for the dignity of the people and against the oppressor.

In that heroic endeavor, the objective was not achieved, but the path was opened for a truly revolutionary struggle in El Salvador. That struggle was not in vain; rather that struggle and the blood shed was a seed that gave life to us, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front.

Our struggle was multidimensional. In the periods of negotiation, nothing was offered [by the government]; everything we won was something we fought for. Our guerrilla army fought on the frontlines while the social movement came together in the streets. Furthermore, we also did international political-diplomatic work. In this process, no one struggle can be seen as separate from the others.

Our strategy was political, military, diplomatic and social. First and foremost, we were social and political fighters who had taken up arms as a form of struggle but this wasn’t the end goal in and of itself.

In 1983, I had the opportunity to meet Schafik Handal at a meeting in Morazán of the General Command.  Later, from 1987 onwards, I worked with him in the international arena. I went in to the Negotiation Commission with Shafik and in 1989-1990, we were under his leadership and coordination every day in the negotiation process. He taught us to have a democratic vision of the country.

ARENA, which was the party that represented the interests of the oligarchy and the country’s political and military power at that moment, tried to block, turn back and change the spirit of the Accords,

In the first years [after the armed conflict], the implementation of the accords was very difficult. One example is the Law of Reconciliation, which was passed on January 23, 1992, which made it possible for the political prisoners to be released and for people who had been in exile or living clandestinely to return. This law had a restriction, which was that all those people named in the Truth Commission report would not be granted these guarantees. This was agreed upon in the negotiation.

The [Truth] Commission began in June and gave its report on March 20, 1993, when the FMLN had already laid down and destroyed our weapons. The right wing rejected the report and put it away in a box. They didn’t comply with the recommendations around legal reforms or with the recommendations to continue the investigations or disqualifications [from continued public or military service] nor with the measures to compensate victims for moral and material harm. Simply, they put up a smokescreen by launching the Law for the Consolidation of Peace.

In the name of the people, they dared to pardon all the crimes. We condemned this action, going to the United Nations, taking to the streets to reject it, because it was a violation of the agreement.

With time, this act has created situations of impunity in the country, because those who were guilty were never investigated, nor were their crimes brought to light. This was also a contributing factor to current levels of serious crime that we have in the county, because many criminals thought, “The system is lax, no one will investigate us, we can continue to create harm."

The Peace Accords also spoke of an Economic-Social Forum to discuss issues like the minimum wage, the cost of living, the legalization of properties in marginalized urban areas and other economic issues. But this Forum didn’t come to be because the business sector was the last to join the table and the first to leave.

This was the time, since the beginning of the government of Alfredo Cristiani in 1989, that the neoliberal economic model was being imposed. So even though, during the negotiations, we spent 92 hours discussing economic-social issues, we couldn’t change the philosophy of the model, much less the system.

When we signed the Peace Accords, Schafik gave a very important speech in Chapultepec, in which he said that we [the FMLN] weren’t incorporating ourselves into the political life of the country like stray sheep being herded back into their flock but as major instigators of political changes that had put an end to a dictatorship. We entered into the political struggle to change the system, not to be consumed by it.

This neoliberal model, which by nature is exclusionary and discriminatory, which makes the rich richer and the poor poorer, lasted for 18 years after the Peace Accords. ARENA also governed for two years prior to the signing of the Accords, making it 20 years total.

Over the past 25 years, despite ARENA’s opposition, other democratic elements [of the Accords] have been fulfilled, including creating important political conditions that, for example, allowed for the possibility of displacing the oligarchy from directing the country. However, running alongside the advances in democratic progress was an exclusionary [economic and social] process.

We can say that in these 20 years [of ARENA administrations] there had been advances in a political process of political inclusion and of a permanent struggle to strengthen democratic institutions. However, the social-economic model was contradictory to this democratizing spirit in the political realm. The neoliberal model was in opposition to the Constitution that we had reformed.

Therefore, when the FMLN won the presidency, even though we had made advances in many areas, there are still deficits and deficiencies in others. The first challenge facing the first FMLN government was to make El Salvador a productive and socially inclusive country. This was the legacy we left after the first five-year term and which we continue in the second. Now we have greater possibilities because at the helm is one of the signers of the Peace Accords, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, who continues to initiate processes of dialogue and reconciliation.

For me, the great legacy that the Peace Accords leaves to us is the methodology of dialogue, of understanding, of reconciliation, and of the ability to find agreement in common purpose.

(Unofficial translation by CISPES National Office. This reflection was written for the FMLN's celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Peace Accords on January 16, 2017)

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