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El Salvador Table of Contents

El Salvador


In the final quarter of 1988, El Salvador continued to suffer the effects of a nine-year-old insurgency by the FMLN, whose 6,000 to 8,000 armed combatants--a figure reduced by attrition and desertion from the estimated 12,000 guerrillas in the field in 1984--received varying degrees of support from Nicaragua, Cuba, and the Soviet Union. By most estimates, more than 63,000 people, or about 1.2 percent of the nation's total population, had died in political violence since 1979, victims of either leftist guerrillas, the military, or right-wing death squads. At the same time, 25 to 30 percent of the population had been displaced or had fled the country as a result of the conflict. Tutela Legal (Legal Aid--the human rights monitoring office of the archdiocese of San Salvador) and other human rights groups claimed that the rightist death squads had murdered more than 40,000 Salvadorans by 1985. During the Duarte government, military and right-wing death squad activity declined significantly, partially as a result of United States threats to withhold economic and military assistance.

In January 1987, constitutional rights were restored when the state of siege, instituted in 1980 and regularly renewed since that date, was allowed to lapse. Extraordinary legislation governing the prosecution of persons suspected of involvement with the insurgency (Decree 50) expired several weeks later. Although the military was concerned that the failure to renew these security decrees would adversely affect their ability to conduct the war, it complied nonetheless by reinstating due process procedures as set forth in the Constitution. The security forces followed presidential orders not to take coercive action to halt a series of violent demonstrations and strikes by guerrilla urban front groups, whose members vandalized and destroyed public and private property, in the May to August period of 1987.

Under the general amnesty law of November 1987, passed by the Legislative Assembly in an effort to comply with the Central American Peace Agreement, the government released about 470 suspected or convicted insurgents--including some involved in several major terrorist incidents--along with a few former military personnel involved in death squad murders. The amnesty covered "politically related crimes" and all common crimes committed in a group of more than twenty persons. It specifically excluded, however, the crime of kidnapping, the 1980 murder of Archbishop Romero, and the period after October 22, 1987. Interpreted broadly, the amnesty could prevent charges from being filed for massacres by the military and killings by the death squads and could require the release of soldiers convicted of human rights abuses. Both the left and the right criticized the law; the left objected to an effective pardon for thousands of death squad assassinations, and the far right condemned pardons for acts of terrorism and sabotage.

The government's leniency did little to alleviate political violence, however. The capital city was exposed almost daily to leftist-sponsored demonstrations, strikes, and economic sabotage, as well as bombings. According to the United States Department of State, in the first quarter of 1988 the capital suffered 213 incidents of sabotage against its telecommunications and electrical systems, as well as 49 acts of economic sabotage and 138 strikes or demonstrations.

Data as of November 1988