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Destabilization trends

Editorial from Proceso, No.649, 15 February 1995

On the eve of ONUSAL's departure, Armed Forces encroachment into political life and public security functions is threatening the future of the transition. We have come to this turn of events thanks to incompetent political leadership (from both the government and the political parties), institutional inefficiency and the conduct of forces opposed to democracy. The current panorama is defined by destabilization trends, not necessarily interdependent (at least in their origins), but which are simultaneously having an effect on society and are pushing it in a dangerous direction.

The first of these destabilization trends is the mobilization of the demobilized soldiers, who have been joined by ex-village patrols and civil defensemen. The government has been incapable of handling the discontent and protests of these groups, some of which are beneficiaries of the peace accords. The powerful forces behind these mobilization have capitalized on the objective and subjective needs of these dispossessed groups, and have manipulated them. In truth, they are less concerned about satisfying the ex-soldiers' demands than about proving how incompetent and politically leaderless the new police force is, thus justifying a return of the Armed Forces to the political arena.

The second destabilizing trend has to do with the land transfer program. Towards the end of last year, the pace of transfers picked up a little, but slowed down again after several weeks. The president's promises and orders to proceed have been of little use. There are limitations in terms of credit, training and technical assistance. There appear to be sectors who are very interested in seeing the government fail to comply, so that the potential beneficiaries will provoke more social disorder which, in turn, will demonstrate the incompetence of the civilian police. Those who are obstructing the land transfers are calculating that the campesinos will take to the streets and provoke disturbances which, from another standpoint, prove the government's incompetence.

The third destabilizing trend has to do with the National Civilian Police (PNC), which has neither grown nor matured, and largely because it has not been allowed to do so. Taking advantage of its objective limitations, some have launched a campaign to discredit the PNC, stressing its impotence and uselessness. We must recall that those who opposed the peace accords have always sought to adulterate the nature of the new police force.

The rise of organized and unorganized crime, of the death squads and "social clean-up" squads, of the kidnapping "industry", drug trafficking, car theft rings, influence-peddling, arson, murders of entire families (including children), the lack of police investigations and judicial action, all help to explain why a desperate people might call for the return of the Armed Forces. However, it could also be interpreted as part of a plan to destabilize the nation.

And if this were not enough: discontent and protests have arisen inside the PNC itself, when 70 members of the anti-drug division were asked to resign because they did not meet basic requirements. In truth, these agents were directly transferred from the now-defunct National Police without any evaluation or paperwork, and in open violation of the peace accords. Their removal was sought in order to correct one of the errors committed by the previous government. However, these police went on strike, demanding much higher severance pay than the law stipulates.

The fifth destabilization trend has to do with the latest economic measures. In this already-unstable context, the government wishes to impose economic policies which will supposedly lead to development. The measures were announced without garnering the necessary consensus, and the government has sought to justify them by alleging that they will fight poverty and improve the standard of living of the majority, when in truth they will only favor the exporters and merchants who took over the reprivatized banking system under the previous government. Therefore, the social dimension, used as an excuse for the measures, is nothing more than rhetoric.

Ironically, among the losers are not only the usual workers and majority poor, but also industry and agriculture which failed to diversify. Besides the enormous economic risk implicit in these policies in and of themselves, they have understandably provoked discontent among all sectors but a privileged few. Labor appears determined to resist privatization and the upcoming new stage of impoverishment. Thus, instead of generating equality, stability and security, the new economic policies about to be imposed are going to produce the contrary: inequality, instability and insecurity.

Finally, there are the public charges of corruption which, regardless of their objectivity, are another piece in the national conspiratorial chess game. There has always been corruption, but the novelty lies in naming names. However, those who are leveling these charges -which, by the way, are extremely selective- are seeking not so much public honesty as ways to attack the power circles around the former and current presidents.

It is almost impossible to understand how a government which ought to be interested in stability and order is doing precisely the opposite: provoking instability and disorder by failing to carry out the peace accords, allowing attempts to undermine the transition process to go unpunished, and proposing economic policies without representative social consensus. The existing power vacuum is allowing forces opposed to democracy to make dangerous inroads on society.

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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