Research Paper on The El Salvadoran Civil War: Historical Context and Events

Paper Type:  Research paper
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1812 Words
Date:  2023-01-24


El Salvador is historically tied to civil unrest since the 1930s following rebellions and resultant massacres such as the 1932 Salvadorian peasant massacre 'the slaughter'. Through the 1930s to 1970s, this smallest and the most densely populated country in Central America has experienced conflicts ranging from election disputes to land reforms and immigration restlessness. The 1979 El Salvadoran civil war, marked by a military coup in the October 15 was a major political event (Montgomery, 2018). The war was mainly a conflict between the military government of El Salvador and Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMNL), one of the two major political parties in El Salvador. The Salvadoran military government fought alongside foreign mercenaries. This front was mainly supported by the United States, Israel, Argentina, Chile, and Taiwan. In the FMNL Front were the Revolutionary Democratic Front (FDR), Fuerzas Populares de Liberacion (FPL) among others, supported by Cuba, Nicaragua and the Soviet Union. By the end of the war in 1992, the United States had aided the war with over $4.5 billion in terms of military aid through the Carter and Reagan administration. One would ask why the U.S supported the government of El Salvador. One of the reasons is that El Salvador and the U.S shared a stand in the context of the Cold War and therefore was considered as a friendly country by the U.S (Ladwig III, 2016). Other than its cold war bond with El Salvador is there anything that the U.S can bring to the table in support of their military aid in the El Salvadoran Civil war? Were their actions justifiable both economically, politically and socially? The U.S involvement in the war is justifiable because the aid it provided saw an end to the war. This paper analyzes the course of the Salvadoran War paying more attention to the two main direct parties; the Salvadoran government military and FMNL. The paper also evaluates the relevance, importance, and implication of United States involvement in the Civil war to both the U.S and El Salvador.

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The War

The Two Main Conflict Groups

The war was fought in two fronts; the Salvadoran military government front and the FMNL front. The Salvadoran military government (the right-wing) constituted of Paramilitary death squads and foreign mercenaries while FMNL was an umbrella organization of left-wing groups; Revolutionary Democratic Front (FDR), Fuerzas Populares de Liberacion (FPL), Unified Popular Action Front (FAPU), People's Liberation Movement (MLP) and Communist Party of El Salvador (PCS). The military government front had support from Israel, the United States of America, Argentina, Chile, and Taiwan. The Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front prided in the support of the Soviet Union, Cuba, and Nicaragua. Argentina, Nicaragua, and the Soviet Union entered the war in 1979. The Soviet Union and Nicaragua pulled out in 1990 but Argentina held onto their front until 1982.

In the course of the war, the military strength of each front continuously changed given war casualties and fluctuating supports. For instance, the left-wing had between 8,000-10,000 fighters by 1992, a number lower than the 12,000-15,000 fighters at the beginning of the war. On the other hand, in the right-wing in which the El Salvadoran government military fought alongside the United States and other allies, the number of fighters was over 65,000 as compared to the 1980s 9,850 fighters. These numbers included mercenaries, government militants and regular civilians.

The Course of the Civil War

The 1979 coup d'etat on October 15 is highly seen as the beginning of the Salvadoran civil war that lasted for over twelve years. As mentioned before, El Salvador had been on the verge of civil war since the 1930s. This situation escalated to national unrest leading to possible repression and insurrection. Following the country's continued tensions, the Revolutionary Government Junta (JRG) staged a coup on 15th October 1979 in an effort to topple the government of President Gen. Carlos Humberto Romero. The revolutionary government (JRG) then ruled the country until 1982 led by colonels Adolfo Majano Ramos and Jaime Abdul Avendano (Wade, 2018). The United States was afraid that El-Salvador could fall to communist revolutionists just like Cuba and Nicaragua (Montgomery, 2018). Therefore, Jimmy Carter's administration sent military aid to the new military government in so as to maintain ensure the stability of the government of El Salvador.

The new rule was dictatorial and the reign was marred with torture, executions, and mass murder of El Salvadorians. For instance, during the reign of Duarte, Archbishop Romero was assassinated in the country's capital during a Catholic Church mass, an event that marked the attack of the Junta government by the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMNL) on 10th January 1981.

The Junta Government and the War

The Junta government experienced much pressure from the military all sides; the citizens and the military to address the socio-economic struggles that the people of El Salvador had experienced in the hands of the previous government. Following this, ten cabinet ministers and civilian members resigned in 1980. Civil unrest went on as the Salvadoran National Guards attacked peaceful demonstrators on January 22nd, 1980 where over 50 people were killed while hundreds were injured. The Revolutionary Government Junta enacted a land reform program restricting landholdings to a maximum of 100-hectares. It also nationalized the banking industry, the coffee, and sugar industries. These changes among other adjustments by the government caused upheaval from different quarters. Particularly, the land reform program was not welcome with open arms as it faced hostile reception by military and economic elites of El Salvador. According to them, the reform would dwindle the country's economy even more and therefore, there was a need to sabotage the program as soon as its inception.

The main government's aim was to redistribute the land to peasants and establish cooperatives. The wealthy El Salvadorians and land-owners started killing their livestock (Wade, 2018). Others moved their valuable farming equipment across the border. This was followed by assassinations of co-operative leaders, especially in the countryside, an event that was marked by a subsequent increment of killings to over 450 by from 234 as recorded in February 1980.

The FMNL in the War

The Salvadoran military and the government of the United States in 1980 set themselves to prevent a takeover by the left-wing guerillas and their allied political movements such as those in under the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front. The FMNL consisted of guerilla groups, workers, communists, and socialists. The rebel groups could not relent at any cost despite the fact that they were by far beaten by the right-wing in terms of military force and overall strength. The force of the left front came from their mass organization which included labor unions, student organizations and the peasants, including women and children (Gonzalez, 2018). The January 1981 attack by the FMNL on the government gave it control over Morazan and Chalatenango departments which they maintained throughout the war period. The FMNL also launched attacks on military bases throughout the country. These attacks left hundreds of people dead. The FMNL insurgents included children, women and trained in the forests and jungles.

In November 1989, Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front heavily attacked the Salvadoran military, an offensive attack that caught the Salvadoran military unprepared. The FMNL took control of the large sections previously controlled by the Salvadoran military and San Salvador, the capital of the country which was controlled by the national military. The rebel wing also took control over many other neighborhoods despite the efforts by the military to bomb them out from their positions (Wade, 2018). Even though the attack did not succeed, the government military was shaken and this confirmed to the government that this movement was hard to bring down and therefore, there was a necessity of negotiations with the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front.

Remarkable Assassinations and Massacres

The United States Aid program stirred assassination events by the El Salvadoran leadership. The assassination of the Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero, while he was celebrating mass, was one of the remarkable events of targeted killings. The archbishop was murdered on 24th March 1980 after his letter to the United States Jimmy Carter in February the same year in which he had urged the United States government to suspend the ongoing aid programs (Soderberg and Hatz, 2016). According to him and other prominent Catholic spokesmen was that any aid given to El Salvadoran government ended up in the hands of the military and the paramilitary, who were seen as the root of the problems the country was facing. Romero asserted that the aid only sharpened injustice and suppressions against the people's organizations which people used to fight for their fundamental human rights. Despite the archbishop's plead with Carter, his cry was unheard and on 24th March the same year, Romero was assassinated. The murder was just a day after the archbishop had called upon the El Salvadoran soldiers and security force to disregard the government orders to shoot and kill Salvadoran civilians. During the archbishop's funeral, 42 mourners were shot dead by government-sponsored snipers, events that Carter described as shocking. The El Salvadoran government was definitely responsible for the execution of the archbishop.

As the war continued, the United States government continued to give military support in terms of financial aid and training to the Salvadoran fighters. The people of El Salvador continued to suffer from assassinations, targeted murder, and disappearances, rape and violation of their human rights by the government military. On 2nd December 1980 for instance, the Salvadoran National Guard was tied to the raping and murder of four American Catholic nuns and a laywoman. Maura Clarke and her fellow women were on a mission to El Salvador to provide food, shelter, transport, medical care, and burial to the death squad victims of the war. This event led to a cut-off of the U.S military aid which was renewed after six weeks. The United States government used the murder of the four nuns to provide more military aid to the Salvadoran army by citing that this was a positive step in investigating the murder of the American nuns. Robert E. White, the U.S Ambassador by then, refuted this claim as void and an excuse on the part of Carter's administration. Chile also supported the Salvadoran Armed military in terms of training and tactical advice.

The Salvadoran military used all the possible tactics to conquer the guerilla forces. This included the scorched earth policy. On 15th March 1981, the Salvadoran Army launched a complete clean-up operation that was accompanied by scorched earth tactics. It was used to ensure that even those hiding in caves and under the trees was not spared. Additionally, the Salvadoran Air Force bombed and restrained any civilians who tried to flee from the enraging war.

Another popular event was the El Mozote Massacre, which occurred on December 11th, 1981. The El Mozote Village was attacked by the Atlactl Battalion who butchered over 733 people. In this event, over 1,000 unarmed civilians are said to have been massacred. This included women and children. The massacred were accused of collaborating with th...

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