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Demobilized soldiers mobilize

Editorial from Proceso, No.647, 1 February 1995

The demobilized soldiers of the Armed Forces upset the nation once again by taking over the Legislative Assembly, the Ministry of the Treasury and the Armed Forces' Social Security Institute. They took hundreds of hostages, including three legislative deputies, and cut off highways at several strategic points nationwide. The protesters had already announced that they would take action to achieve their demands. As on previous occasions, the actions were carried out with admirable military precision and -strangely enough- without any noticeable obstacles.

Two days later, with the same military discipline used to paralyze three organs of the State, some 4,000-7,000 demobilized soldiers from all parts of the country vacated the buildings they had taken over, rallied quickly and left the capital city. The end of the takeover was made possible by negotiations with the government, mediated by ONUSAL, in which the government apparently accepted the ex-soldiers' demands of full financial compensation, lands, housing and technical assistance. According to the protesters' chief negotiator, the government has agreed to meet their demands. And this is also strange in that no document was signed. The guarantee lies in the mere word of ONUSAL.

Some of the ex-soldiers' demands are included in the peace accords; others, although not included, have been previously accepted by the government. However, there are other demands which are neither in the accords nor have been accepted by the government. Whether or not a particular demand is included in the peace accords, the actions taken by the demobilized soldiers demonstrate the extremes to which desperate people, without jobs or a future, can resort. Ironically, those who are demobilized today were, until recently, hailed by the Armed Forces as heroes. But the heroes have lost their secure lifestyle and are no longer willing to swallow nice words.

No matter how you look at it, the government has been incapable of facing this situation. If it had turned over the benefits stipulated in the peace accords instead of employing delaying tactics to gain time, the demobilized soldiers would have no basis for protest. And besides, an injustice has been done, since the top army officers who were retired got the fattest compensation packages, leaving just a few crumbs for the rank and file.

It is amazing that the government is surprised by the actions taken by the demobilized soldiers, who appear to operate whenever and wherever they want to. These actions seriously call into question the effectiveness of the government's Intelligence Office, a bureau in charge of making sure that public order is not disturbed. It also calls into question military intelligence, which continues to operate in the civilian realm, although illegally and unconstitutionally. If neither of these two organs knew anything about the plans of the demobilized soldiers, we can only conclude that our nation's intelligence services are woefully inadequate. And, if they knew, one must ask why the government took no action.

It seems incredible, but that was indeed the case. The Minister of Defense said that the Armed Forces knew beforehand about the demobilized soldiers' plans, but did not believe they would go as far as they did. Perhaps that is why the military never said anything about it to the president. These statements confirm the fact that the army continues -unconstitutionally- to carry out intelligence functions, that the information it collects is irrelevant in times of national crisis, and that it is anxious to prove that its troops are more effective than the new police force in maintaining public order. The president of the legislature [Gloria Salguero Gross] feels the same way, because she unilaterally broke a political agreement signed in the Presidential Palace by calling up the army to guard the legislative buildings, forcing President Calderon Sol to take responsibility for the move ex post facto in order for his party to save face.

Meanwhile, the president rapidly sought the support of the political parties. After many hours of discussion in the Presidential Palace, the politicians agreed to preserve democracy and to find out who were the ringleaders behind the actions taken by the demobilized soldiers. In fact, not much discussion was necessary to arrive at the first agreement. Nor in the second case, since that is something that official intelligence ought to know already. In any case, everyone tries to save his or her "friends" or to win political advantage. The Defense Minister says they are not ex-soldiers, President Calderon speaks of "shadowy forces" and the ERP once again accused the FPL.

It doesn't take much imagination to conclude that, given the military efficiency demonstrated by the demobilized soldiers, along with the passivity of the government, behind the mobilizations are military and political interests opposed to the peace accords. The crisp military discipline with which they carried out their actions nationwide points to the existence of a centralized command. It is hard to believe that the ex-soldiers would obey civilians -much less politicians- although that does not rule out some civilian involvement. Furthermore, the passivity of the government and the role of the Armed Forces are only understandable if we conclude that top military officers (both retired and active) and politicians linked to the governing party directed the protest campaign. These are the same ones who opposed the negotiations, the peace accords and their implementation. The desperation of the former soldiers was a useful tool for pursuing their own ends without showing their faces.

A silver lining was to be found amidst all this governmental inefficiency, and that is that it behaved prudently. The provocateurs sought to shed blood in order to generate greater confusion and instability. Under these circumstances, it was an almost irresistible temptation to call up the Armed Forces as the only institution capable of keeping order -on the eve of ONUSAL's departure. We can only hope that the government maintains its cautious attitude, and becomes more effective in ending, for once and for all, these incidents of social unrest which are harmful to all. Violent military repression is in no way an appropriate solution to social and political conflict.

Proceso is published weekly in Spanish by the Center for Information, Documentation and Research Support (CIDAI) of the Central American University (UCA) of El Salvador. Portions are sent in English to the *reg.elsalvador* conference of PeaceNet in the USA and may be forwarded or copied to other networks and electronic mailing lists. Please make sure to mention Proceso when quoting from this publication.

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