El Salvador: Perspectives on a Revolutionary Civil War
ON OCTOBER 15, 1-979, a few weeks after the fall of Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua, a group of Salvadoran army officers removed a military regime with a comparable record of repression. Installed in its place was a civilian-military junta pledged to a platform of reforms. The new government, joined by Christian and Social Democrats as well as by members of the legal arm of the Salvadoran Communist Party, raised hopes of a measure of open political functioning in a country which had undergone nearly five decades of military dictatorship. In the weeks following the coup, people in their thousands took to the streets, demanding a full accounting of the "disappeared" and the political prisoners of the ousted Romero regime; they occupied churches, ministries and markets to press long-standing demands for higher wages, lower rents, land reform and an end to the repression.
But day by day, the reform-minded elements within the new junta could feel their influence waning. Attempts to implement the platform of reforms ran into what participants have described as "a whole gamut of obsolete anti-popular juridical procedures'5.1 Instruments of state repression, such as the terror network ORDEN, were not disbanded, as the reform platform had pledged, bat reconstituted, and by December were resuming their grim work in the countryside. Above all, it became clear that, the junta was exercising nothing more than formal power;
real power remained in traditional hands, those of a numerically tiny group known popularly as "the fourteen families" and of the military which had for years defended their rule. • /
By January 1980, no longer prepared to participate in what was now understood to be "a manoeuvre against the people",2 almost the entire civilian component of the junta resigned. Many of those resigning, \yho included veteran leaders of El Salvador's political "centre", would quickly go over to the revolutionary opposition. With the collapse of the experiment, the country was now clearly polarised into two camps: on one side, the popular organisations, now attracting the support of social-democratic sections and already taking important steps
*Journalist and writer based in Madras. Recently she spent some time in the US where she collected the material.