Eighteen years later, President Funes moves forward with implementation of Peace Accords
By David Grosser, Boston CISPES
Eighteen years after their original signing, the PeaceAccords that ended the civil war between the FMLN and the Salvadoran government(then headed by ARENA) are once again in the news. The new FMLN government ofPresident Mauricio Funes and Vice President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, has, sincetaking office in June 2009, resurrected and implemented parts of that historicagreement that successive ARENA administrations blocked and tried to bury.
Mostdramatically, at a January 16 ceremony marking the eighteenth anniversary ofthe signing of the Accords, Funes became the first President of El Salvador tomake a public apology on behalf of the government for the crimes committed bythe State during the war. President Funes acknowledged that government agentscommitted “massacres, arbitrary executions, forced disappearances, torture,sexual abuse, arbitrary detentions and different acts of repression” againstSalvadoran civil society. Funes asserted that this public apology was anecessary first step in alleviating pain and healing the emotional and socialwounds left by the war.
Hisgovernment had already taken initial steps in confronting government impunitysurrounding the Civil War on November 7, when El Salvador’s Ministry of ForeignRelations announced it would make reparations for the 1980 murder of ArchbishopOscar Arnulfo Romero. This followed an August 31 announcement by Minister of ForeignAffairs Hugo Martínez that the government of El Salvador would create aCommission for the Disappeared to investigate cases of children forciblydisappeared and separated from their families during the Civil War.
Inacknowledging these basic truths about the war years, about the war years,Funes directly attacked ARENA’s decades-long “politics of amnesia.” The 1992accord created a “Truth Commission” that investigated high profile human rightscases – including those of Romero and the six murdered Jesuit priests – butimmediately after the war ended, then-President (and current head of ARENA)Alfredo Cristiani rammed an amnesty law through the Legislative Assembly.
Asa result, ARENA not only shielded its leaders (and the armed forces high command)from prosecution, but also used the amnesty to deny its overwhelmingresponsibility for human rights abuses during the war. In the post-war years,ARENA aggressively promoted death squad leader and party founder RobertoD’Aubisson as a national hero, erecting a statue of him in San Salvador anddedicating numerous public meetings to his memory.
Whilerepeal of the amnesty law is not possible without an FMLN majority in thelegislature (the party currently has only 35 out of 84 seats), Funes’ actionspave the way for an end to the public silence about the crimes committed byARENA and the U.S.-backed armed forces during the war. Funes’ actions also laythe foundation for a reform of the education curriculum so that Salvadoranyouth can at last learn the truth about the war years. (Hundreds of teacheractivists were murdered and “disappeared” during the conflict).
Thoughthe Peace Accords were signed in 1992, negotiations began much earlier, as aresult of the 1989 military stalemate. Through the Accords, the FMLN wonseveral key reforms:
-Replacement of the military dictatorship with afunctioning, albeit seriously flawed, electoral system – and the opportunity tocompete in elections. The FMLN?hassteadily increased the number of municipalities governed and the number ofseats held in the Legislative Assembly, culminating in Funes’ 2009 presidentialvictory
-Shrinking of the military and its withdrawal from a prominentrole in Salvadoran national politics
-Disbanding of many of the internal security agencies stronglyinvolved in the death squads, and the creation of a National Civilian Police
Despite these important reforms, many of the agreement’sother key provisions were never implemented. However, the concrete steps takenthus far by President Funes’ administration seem to demonstrate a commitment tofinally following through on the promise of the Peace Accords that so manyfought for during El Salvador’s civil war