We are constantly hearing many different voices from many different places saying that democracy has come to El Salvador. Government officials, business leaders, the media and political analysts insist that we are living in a new El Salvador, in other words, a nation in which intolerance and exclusion have no room. However, does this hold up in reality? Is it true that democracy, as such, is a consummated fact in Salvadoran society? Furthermore, do we all agree on what the word "democracy" means?
Above all, it is clear that the signing of the peace accords put an end to twelve years of civil war, and that constitutes an important achievement in the nation's political history. By the same token, the peace accords made it possible to disarm the left and help it rejoin the legally established political system as a formal political party. The end of the war and the opening of the left's own political space are two important achievements for our country, which cannot be overlooked. It is hard to speak of a democracy when there is a civil war bleeding the nation or when one or more actors in political life are forcibly excluded from competition for power or have no other option but to dispute power by force of arms.
Of course, the factors that make up democracy are not limited to those two aspects, no matter how important they may be. The war ended with the peace accords, but the structural causes which set it off continue to prevail: the impoverishment and marginalization of the majority of the population continues to be an indisputable reality in post-war El Salvador. And this is despite the very same peace accords, in which some basic socio-economic reforms were set forth but have yet to be carried out, such as the Forum for Economic and Social Consensus-Building (definitively aborted) or the land transfer programs and others to help ex-combatants rejoin civilian life. In other words, the end of the war has not meant the end of structural violence; and although in order to begin eradicating the latter it was necessary to put an end to the former, so far it seems that the end of the civil war has become the ultimate and definitive achievement for the elites who run this country, instead of representing a starting-point for addressing the endogenous factors which set off the civil war in the first place, and in order to make progress toward the social democratization of El Salvador.
Furthermore, the negotiated end of the war made it possible to integrate the armed left into the legally constituted political system. But that integration is not the ultimate end of the nation's political democratization, although it is a very important aspect of it. In the first place, political democratization does not merely consist in the fact that voters can have diverse ideological and political options (basically, left, center and right) on election day, but instead, above and beyond a plurality of options, voters must become citizens and progressively broaden their degrees of involvement in the nation's different socio- political realms. Not only is such citizen involvement not being strengthened in our country, but also -on the contrary- it is increasingly being obstructed by an authoritarian exercise of power, by both the executive and legislative branches.
In the second place, the fact that the left has won a legal niche is not enough for full democratization because democracy includes, among other things: tolerance, inclusion and pluralism. And this tolerance, inclusion and pluralism are not only for a left whose identity is increasingly diffuse, but also for the different groups and segments which make up society. It is significant that the political system has broadened to include the left; it is notable to see the tolerance that other parties, the government, the military and private enterprise have shown toward those groups and their proposals; and we can certainly not overlook the pluralism shown by the media by offering room for left proposals and analyses or, better yet, to have included some leftist intellectuals as permanent collaborators.
But does all that constitute unequivocal proof that democracy has come to El Salvador? Definitely not. Nor can we speak of a social democracy in even minimum terms, since the socio-economic exclusion of the majority of the population continues to increase; nor can we speak of a consolidated political democracy or one that is on the way to becoming consolidated, when political exclusion, intolerance and anti-pluralism are part of the daily lives of the majority of Salvadorans. Was there any respect shown for other political faiths when Pope John Paul II came to El Salvador? Did President Calderon Sol show any tolerance toward those who spoke out against abuses in maquila factories? Did La Prensa Grafica show any pluralism in its coverage of the Public Works' Union takeover of the Metropolitan Cathedral? Is their any principle of inclusion at work when the state attacks community radios and the proponents of free enterprise applaud?
Finally, in order to evaluate the true progress made by democracy in El Salvador, it is not enough to say that tolerance, inclusion and pluralism are a reality, but rather we have to say for whom they are and under what conditions. The fact that left leaders or intellectual elites can enjoy those benefits may be progress, but it does not signify the definitive attainment of democracy. In other words, if tolerance, inclusion and pluralism are not a reality for the majority, then democracy will be nothing more than an empty word, no matter what government and business propaganda say to the contrary.
Center for Information, Documentation and Research Support (CIDAI)
Central American University (UCA)
San Salvador, El Salvador
Apdo. Postal (01)575, San Salvador, El Salvador
Tel: +503-273-4400 ext. 266 Fax: +503-273-5000
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