El Salvador


Cheney tried to spin elections in Iraq by comparing them to those he had observed in El Salvador:

CHENEY: Twenty years ago we had a similar situation in El Salvador. We had — guerrilla insurgency controlled roughly a third of the country, 75,000 people dead, and we held free elections. I was there as an observer on behalf of the Congress. The human drive for freedom, the determination of these people to vote, was unbelievable. And the terrorists would come in and shoot up polling places; as soon as they left, the voters would come back and get in line and would not be denied the right to vote. And today El Salvador is a whale of a lot better because we held free elections. The power of that concept is enormous. And it will apply in Afghanistan, and it will apply as well in Iraq.

According to Doug Ireland this comparison was cribbed from David Brooks who had made the comparison in the Times. The thing is, the comparison is more apt than Cheney is aware of. Here is what Marc Cooper (who was also there at the time) has to say:

In fact, the Salvadoran elections of 1982 — IMPOSED by the U.S. in the middle of an indigenous war, not only failed to bring democracy, but rather accelerated the conflict. The war lasted a full decade more. It took the lives of another 35,000 people (mostly all civilians, mostly all killed by the democratic” and elected” government” legitmated by the hollow Potemkin-elections).

The elections did not, contrary to Brooks’ assertion, produce democratic leaders. President Duarte did not reach a negotiated agreement with the insurgency, which only ballooned in size. The process put in place eventually catapulted the extreme right party of the death squads — ARENA—into power. The bone-numbing brutality of the Salvadoran military was hardly curbed.

The war ended in 1992, not because of the U.S. sponsored election” process but in spite of it. It was only after the insurgents brought the war into the heart of the Salvadoran capital and after the world was shocked by the grotesque murder of six Jesuit priests carried out by the American-trained First Infantry Brigade that negotiations finally took traction. (Salvador-based blogger and long-time human rights worker David Holiday has a similar take as mine).

The Salvadoran peace was concluded, by the way, under sponsorship of the United Nations—another tasty little fact omitted in today’s sanitized history by Brooks. And it was cemented and lasts until today, only because that UN process folded the insurgents (or in Reaganspeak the terrorists”) into a compacted coalition with the government forces — something the U.S. spent billions in dollars and thousands in Salvadoran lives trying to prevent.