The commemoration of the Peace Agreements that put an end to the civil war of The Savior that in 12 years left more than 75,000 dead will show this year a division never seen before.
This Sunday, January 16, marks the 30th anniversary of the signing of that pact that opened the doors to democracy in the country, to the demilitarization of public security by limiting the functions of an army that was purged, to the reform of the court that outlined the principle of separation of powers and the recognition of human rights.
But the Salvadoran Assembly, controlled by the party of the president Nayib B Watch, approved this week a decree to eliminate its commemoration because “far from representing a benefit for the Salvadoran population, they constituted the beginning of an era of corruption,” reads the opinion.
Instead, Congress approved holding the Day of the Victims of the Armed Conflict as “fair recognition to all the people who offered their lives during it (…) with the false idea of a fairer society that never came.”
In the past, Bukele came to describe both the war and the Peace Accords as a “farce”, which he described as a “negotiation between two domes” that did not bring any benefit to the Salvadoran people.
The agreements were signed in 1992 between the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (Arena), then head of the government, and the left-wing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN).
The clashes between the guerrillas and the army left bloody events such as the El Mozote massacre, where around a thousand people were killed.
BBC Mundo interviewed Nidia Diaz, signatory of the Peace Accords on behalf of the FMLN.
A former guerrilla and former deputy for this party, Díaz regrets that Bukele wants to “manipulate history”, warns that the agreements are being breached, and assures that some of the conditions that existed before the pact are currently being seen again in El Salvador, which is experiencing “a moment of clear setback”.
How would you define what the signing of the Peace Accords meant for El Salvador 30 years ago?
The end of 60 years of dictatorship, the end of the civil war and the beginning of a democratic process in the country.
What was it that motivated so many people with no military experience to join the guerrillas at that time?
A deep love for the people, solidarity and rebellion against injustice. At that time no one could say or give an opinion. When you see that you can’t exercise your rights, that’s where the fight and the demands on the State come.
And in your case, what was your activity as part of this movement of which you ended up being a guerrilla commander?
I joined the revolutionary struggle in 1971, when we lived under dictatorial crimes. We went out to the streets to mobilize to overthrow the dictatorship but the repression was increasing and in 1981 the insurrectional process began.
In the year 85 I was wounded and captured in combat. I was a prisoner for 190 days and was released thanks to a humanitarian exchange through which several prisoners were released.
Due to my four gunshot wounds, it was more difficult for me to be permanently on the war fronts and in recent years I have developed more diplomatic political work. I was a member of the negotiation commission for the Peace Agreements in 1989 and I was a signatory of them on January 16, 1992.
The civil war is so recent that its wounds are still present in Salvadoran society, still polarized and divided in many aspects. What do you think was the biggest mistake of those who participated in that conflict with thousands of victims?
Well, the rebellion really comes from the victims, from society. We said “enough” to so much massacre and murder of the dictatorship that grouped all the power, through methods of struggle regulated in the Geneva Convention.
I would just like to remind you that in the report of the Truth Commission, which was one of the mechanisms that we established in the Peace Accords, it was concluded that 87.3% of the cases that it investigated had been the responsibility of the State and illegal groups. armed groups they created, while close to 4% were attributed as the responsibility of the FMLN.
Another percentage was not known to whom to attribute and it was necessary to continue investigating.
But the numbers of victims are shocking: 75,000 dead, 8,000 missing…
Yes. Being children of the same country, we had to confront each other to the point of killing each other.
Every country has conflicts that can get worse, and if you don’t have the ability to resolve them peacefully, that explodes into a war.
We looked for a way out, but any dialogue was impossible when they began to kill peacemakers like San (Óscar Arnulfo) Romero, political leaders…
The agreements were the sensible and political way out of all that.
How do you remember the day the agreements were signed in Chapultepec, Mexico?
Everybody was excited. Although even that day there was no certainty that President (Alfredo) Cristiani was going to sign it as a representative of the Salvadoran State.
But he did, which made it more important than if a delegation sent by him did it.
Were there gaps or aspects of the pact that could have been improved?
The agreements and constitutional reforms that followed created a new reality in El Salvador, allowed the independence of powers and were key to the functioning of the democratic transition.
Of course they can be perfected towards a more participatory and transparent democracy, greater inclusion of people’s rights and more solutions to problems of social justice. But the basis for all citizens to live together without confrontation was that.
The pact addressed political problems but left aside the economic and social spheres.
Yes, we were not able to make constitutional reforms on the economic structure.
A platform was created so that problems such as salaries, pensions, legalization of land could be resolved in the economic and social forum… but unfortunately it could not be developed.
What was the hardest thing to agree on?
The issue of demilitarization, because it involved a new vision of national defense and public security.
We wanted it to stop appearing as a “permanent” body in the Constitution, but we did not achieve it.
And all the debates regarding impunity were very strong, the purging of the army, about the dead, the disappeared… it was very intense. The negotiations took two years instead of one, but it was achieved.
Human rights organizations have repeatedly accused the current Salvadoran government of promoting authoritarian measures and empowering the army beyond its functions. Are you afraid that part of what was achieved with the agreements will be destroyed?
There is a breach of the Peace Accords. The militarization process that Bukele wants to carry out is contrary to what was agreed upon.
There it became clear that, in times of peace, the army has to be reduced, but instead he wants to double it to 40,000 members.
It is causing the army to interfere more in public security functions, despite how much it cost to make its function independent.
Or like when he messed with the military in the Assembly in February 2020 (to press for the approval of a budget for his territorial control plan). That is serious and very delicate.
The Peace Accords gave rise to reforms to guarantee the division of powers, but last year the Assembly controlled by Bukele’s party was widely criticized for dismissing the Constitutional judges and the attorney general. Do you see similarities between El Salvador today and the one before the agreements?
Yes, today we are experiencing a very difficult moment in El Salvador of backward movement.
Now there is again an evident persecution against some people. It is seen with the journalists who write questioning the government, with the NGOs that are investigated for the funds they receive. It is a climate of great tension, of intimidation.
Now the guarantees and rights that were achieved with the Peace Accords are at risk, that no one was going to be persecuted and their civil and political rights were not going to be violated. Now we are living it.
What did you think when Bukele described the agreements as a “farce”?
That Bukele criticizes them is antihistorical and ignorant.
As a negotiator and signatory, does it hurt that the government has canceled the commemoration of the Peace Accords?
It is aberrant and disastrous, it is the fact that a country tries to take away its historical memory.
What happened on January 16 will remain in memory forever, although Bukele does not want to and prefers to erase history.
Everything is because the acronyms of those who signed that agreement are mentioned, and the current government prefers to launch campaigns of hate and manipulation about what happened.
The president of the Assembly said that there was no need to commemorate those who signed the agreements because they established that controversial amnesty law with which “their sins were forgiven” during the war.
President Cristiani presented that amnesty law in 1993, as a clean slate, which lasted until in 2016 a Court declared it unconstitutional.
In 2020 a new law was presented but the victims still did not feel represented, so the FMLN did not support it.
Bukele, for his part, vetoed it and got bogged down. Now they say that the Assembly will create a commission to investigate crimes against humanity during the war.
And what do you reply to Bukele when he says that the negotiation took place between two domes and that it did not bring benefits to the people?
The pact was not between the Arena and FMLN parties, we do not want an individual role.
It was between the Salvadoran State and the representative force of the people, as the international community recognized the FMLN-FDR through the Franco-Mexican Declaration of 1981, which said that there would be no solution to the conflict without a political solution between both parties.
It is important to remember that in the face of Bukele’s narrative that the pact was useless, that it had no importance, that there was no struggle of the people, as if a war happened automatically without previous causes.
And it is precisely in that atmosphere of freedom that was achieved that Bukele was able to grow.
Now, instead, the government will instead celebrate the Day of the Victims of the Armed Conflict, considering that it is they who must be remembered. Do not agree to prioritize them?
Well, those of us who rebelled in 1981 were victims, but what we highlight is the meaning of these agreements, and by which we were all able to develop freely. And there are also included the victims.
Your day should be a solemn, exclusive thing, as organizations have long called for it to be celebrated on August 30.
And although they (Bukele’s party) have a majority in the Assembly, they have not approved it.
Given the current situation, is it necessary to recover the climate of negotiation and dialogue that existed 30 years ago in El Salvador?
Of course, because what we are going for is a climate of more and more confrontation.
We must respect the institutions and open processes of dialogue and understanding so that conflicts can be overcome.
IT MAY INTEREST YOU