This Day in Resistance History: 1992 Ceasefire in El Salvador
Twenty one years ago today, the then US-backed government of El Salvador signed a ceasefire agreement with the armed insurgent movement, known as the FMLN, ending more than a decade of armed conflict.
The ceasefire was a major victory for the FMLN and popular movements in El Salvador, which had been fighting government repression for decades.
I was fortunate to be in El Salvador when the ceasefire was announced and was able to participate in the national celebrations that were taking place throughout the country by the FMLN and the popular movements.
I was traveling with three friends and we first went to the department of Chalatenango, which is in the northern part of El Salvador, near the Honduran border. Chalatenango was one of the regions of the country that was controlled by the FMLN during most of the 1980s, leading up to the ceasefire.
When we arrived in Chalatenango, we went to a press conference held by some of the comandancia, the leadership of the FMLN. However, that night we participated in a big baile (dance), where rank & file members of the FMLN were. We are black beans & tortillas, drank punch and danced for hours to local music and the occasional America tune.
The next day we bused it back to the capital of San Salvador and were invited to stay at the office of Co-Madres, a human rights organization that formed just after the assassination of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980.
Co-Madres was one of the most vocal groups in the country in terms of denouncing human rights violations and because of that were the constant target of government repression. They invited us to stay with them to provide an international presence and to help translate their newsletter into English.
On January 16, the official day of the ceasefire, it was announced that there would be a mass rally in the plaza in downtown San Salvador. The Cathedral was located there, the same church that Romero presided over and the location of a government massacre of people who were present to mourn at Romero’s funeral.
Co-Madres and other popular movement groups, which included student groups, women’s groups, labor unions and other sectors would converge on the plaza coming from four directions. Co-Madres asked us to march with them, since it was still not safe to publicly defy the government.
The march was amazing and reflected the hopes and aspirations of thousands of people who turned out to celebrate both the end of the counter-insurgency war and the victory for the left. We heard dozens of speakers, poets, musicians and guests from other countries address the audience throughout the afternoon and into the night. The celebration lasted until the early morning hours of the next day, with people pouring into the streets celebrating with laughter and tears.
This ceasefire was significant on several levels. First, it was a clear sign that the Salvadoran army could not defeat the FMLN militarily. This was despite the fact that for most of the previous decade the US government was providing $1 million a day (in military aid) to a country the size of Massachusetts.
This victory by the FMLN not only was inspiring for the people in El Salvador, but it sent a message to popular movements through the world that US backed counter-insurgencies were beatable.
The next year, the United Nations set up a Truth Commission to investigate the human rights violations committed between 1980 – 1992. US government officials had up until this point made the claim that the FMLN was equally responsible for human rights atrocities as the Salvadoran military.
However, the report that came out in 1993, which was based on testimony from thousands of Salvadorans, government documents and third party sources, demonstrated that over 90% of the human rights abuses were committed by the US-backed Salvadoran armed forces. This was a clear indictment of the claims that were made by both the Salvadoran and US governments.
El Salvador continues to recover from more than a decade of war and centuries of economic exploitation, but the January 16, 1992 celebration was an amazing moment in resistance history.