Apr 30, 1982
The Reagan administration as well as the press in the U.S. rather loudly celebrated the recent election in El Salvador. Secretary of State Haig called the election a “victory we have all won.” Reagan himself said that “all of us should have been a little bit inspired by what took place” in the election. They themselves seemed a little surprised by the 80 per cent voter turnout. But they were happy to use it as the proof that the regime in El Salvador is democratic.
Of course, Reagan neglected to mention that non-voters’ unstamped identification cards could lead to their arrest and charges of subversion, or to victimization by the right-wing “death squads.” In fact, the election was carried out, in effect, with guns at the backs of the Salvadoran people, forcing them to the polls.
But after all, for Reagan and for U.S. imperialism, the point is not that the election was really democratic, but that it could appear to be a proof of democracy. The fact that the regime even held an election could be used by the U.S. as a proof that the regime is democratic, and that, by extension, the U.S. is supporting democracy in El Salvador. The election made it possible for them to address this kind of propaganda to a U.S. and an international audience. They apparently hoped by this to buy some time, to resist a growing opposition in the U.S. population and among a wide range of governments, including some European allies – an opposition against continued U.S. support for the junta. Perhaps they might have hoped for a victory for Duarte, to lend his regime a degree of credibility. But above all, they wanted to use the elections to buy some time, to be able to explore different options, and to see if the situation resolves itself in any way.
The particular results of the election don’t change this. In fact, Duarte and the leading
spokesman of the extreme right, Roberto D’Aubuisson, have few real differences. Duarte has presented a facade of land reform, which D’Aubuisson has called “communist.” D’Aubuisson has in the past promised that, if he were in power, he would wage a far more ruthless war than Duarte has.
But it is not as if Duarte has not tried to get all he can out of his army of 22, 000 troops. In the last 2 years, more than 35, 000 people have been killed by the regime and by the “death squads” tied to D’Aubuisson, the existence of which, by the way, Duarte has accepted. Up to now, the U.S. government has been able to paint the mass murderer Duarte as a “moderate” only because those who screamed for more blood were not in power. In fact, D’Aubuisson could not carry out the war more thoroughly than Duarte has been doing.
In any case, neither Duarte nor D’Aubuisson can head the government or make it function unless the U.S. imperialism accepts him. If, for example, imperialism wants to continue the charade of land reform, it can easily force a government headed by D’Aubuisson to carry out that policy, despite his earlier rhetoric.
The failure of Duarte to win a clear majority may be inconvenient for the U.S. imperialists, because on the level of propaganda it’s better for them to support a Christian Democrat than an open fascist. But the elections changed nothing basic in the situation for U.S. imperialism in El Salvador. The U.S. government still confronts the same problem there that is faced before the election; that is, that there is a widespread revolt by the Salvadoran people against the current regime, and by extension, against U.S. domination of El Salvador. There is a guerilla army perhaps 8,000 strong, with ties to a large part of the population, controlling almost one-third of the land area, and waging a war against the regime.
The Salvadoran army has been unable to defeat the guerillas. Even if D’Aubuisson were in command of the army, the result would not be very different. The problem for imperialism is whether to decide to use its own forces to try to crush the guerillas or whether to propose to negotiate with them.
If U.S. imperialism commits its own armed forces to El Salvador, it would undoubtedly
prefer to be able to carry it off something like the rapidly executed invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965. Unfortunately for imperialism, El Salvador today has little in common with the Dominican Republic of 1965. The U.S. could invade and triumph very quickly in 1965 for the simple reason that the Dominican people were not very mobilized. Today in El Salvador, a substantial part of the population actively opposes the regime tied to imperialism and protects the guerilla army which fights against the regime. If we have to make a comparison, it would be more accurate to see the struggle today in El Salvador as a reflection of the early days of the struggle in Viet Nam.
Of course, El Salvador is much smaller than Viet Nam and is much closer to the U.S. But even if the U.S. forces were to succeed in crushing the guerillas, we can imagine that they would not be able to simply pack up and go home. The U.S. would have to leave an occupying army there, whose soldiers would continue to be picked off slowly by the population.
Such a circumstance would be difficult for U.S. imperialism. An invasion of El Salvador and a protracted war there could spark a strong opposition in the U.S.
Moreover, such an occupation could backfire for them as far as Latin America is concerned. The fact that the U.S. would be tied up in a country like El Salvador could show that an armed attack by imperialism against a mobilized people can have trouble winning a decisive victory. Thus, in trying to make a proof to the Salvadoran people that it is not worthwhile to try to fight imperialism, the U.S. rulers could demonstrate just the opposite to other oppressed peoples – that, in Latin America, as in Viet Nam, even the U.S. military cannot easily subdue an organized mass movement of resistance. So there are many big risks for imperialism if it seeks a military solution.
The alternative for the imperialists is to agree to negotiate with representatives of the
rebels. But the risk for imperialism in this is that this can be a demonstration, a proof, to other oppressed peoples that rebellion can win concessions from the imperialists.
Given the success of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, imperialism must understand that such a proof in El Salvador could have a further impact on the already substantial struggle under way in Guatemala, as well as on the other people of Central America. And such a fire of hope spreading in Central America could also spread into South America.
If imperialism wants to be able to carry out such negotiations without this risk, it can best do it if it also negotiates a new relationship with the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua, and with Cuba. These regimes symbolize the success of the anti-imperialist struggle in the region. If these regimes negotiate a new relationship for themselves with imperialism, the obvious implication is that the other peoples of the region could not depend on the support of Cuba or Nicaragua in their own struggles. Of course, today Cuba and Nicaragua do not give much material aid to the people of El Salvador. But they at least symbolize independence from imperialism and thereby offer a political counter-weight to it.
When we see the contention between the U.S. and Cuba today, it seems difficult to imagine such a deal. But it would not be the first time that U.S. imperialism has used such a maneuver. The failure of the U.S. to achieve a military victory over the Vietnamese people led the imperialist policymakers under Nixon to reverse their policy of hostility toward China. In order to avoid the possibility that the U.S. defeat in Viet Nam might spark other nationalist revolts throughout Asia, the U.S. turned to China. Imperialism gave certain concessions to China, especially recognition of the Maoist regime; in exchange, imperialism made it clear that it expected China to “keep the peace” in that area of the world: that is, to police Asia for imperialism. The agreement between China and the U.S. stood as a promise of China’s aid. But if there remained any doubts about China’s willingness to play a counterrevolutionary role in Asia, these were erased when the Chinese invaded Viet Nam in the “border war” a few years later.
Today, there are indications that the Reagan administration might like to use Cuba, and by extension Nicaragua, in the same way.
To be sure, Reagan and Haig’s prevailing rhetoric has remained aggressive and hostile, and they continue to imply they are ready to support an invasion of Nicaragua. But during this same period, U.S. officials have met with Nicaraguan representatives at the U.N., have responded cautiously but favorably to Mexican proposals to mediate talks, and have even sent a State Department official to Cuba to show some interest in negotiations Haig himself met briefly with Cuban foreign minister Rodriguez in Mexico.
Certainly U.S. imperialism has not yet decided to make such a shift in policy. And it’s not at all clear that the Cuban or Nicaraguan regimes are ready to play this game. But it was imperialism which chose to break with them after they came to power, not vice versa. And, over the years, Cuba has reiterated that it would like to “normalize relations with the U.S.,” just as Nicaragua says today. The U.S. could hope to give a certain number of concessions to Cuba in regard to this, in exchange for getting the aid of Cuba in controlling the political and social unrest in Central America, before it could spread in the oppressive conditions of the rest of Latin America.
Of course, even if the U.S. arrives at an understanding with Cuba and Nicaragua, this does not necessarily mean that the other peoples in Central America will stop their struggle. But the U.S. can hope such an understanding would make the struggle more difficult.
As the Reagan administration weighs its policy options in El Salvador, it must look over
its shoulder. Imperialism’s ability to rule the world as it wants is constrained by the revolts of the peoples it oppresses. One proof of this is the fact that today the U.S. must look to Cuba and Nicaragua to help it out. The U.S. is not approaching them because imperialism has suddenly had a change of heart. It approaches because they have demonstrated a certain amount of strength over the years. The very fact that the peoples of these countries struggled against regimes tied to imperialism, the very fact that the populations of Cuba and Nicaragua were mobilized gave these countries the possibility to hold out against the threats and blockades of imperialism. If imperialism comes to them today, it is because imperialism has not been able to defeat them earlier.
Although the conflict in El Salvador remains unsolved, several things are obvious. Even a very small country can pose a very big problem for imperialism when the people decide to fight to defend themselves against their oppressors. The fact that U.S. imperialism has hesitated this long is a reflection that the U.S. does not have a free hand in the situation. And the difficulty posed for imperialism by the struggle in El Salvador is reinforced by the possibility that the struggle can spark struggles from other oppressed peoples – or even in the imperialist nation itself. The imperialists do not want a new revolt of the youth within their own borders. If the young people, and others, within the U.S. respond to the threat of U.S. aggression against El Salvador, they can play a role in the struggle. What happens to the struggle of the people of El Salvador depends, first of all, of course, on the Salvadoran people themselves. But it also depends, in part, on what the people of this country choose to do.