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JOURNAL El Salvador: Pulling Out the Tiger’s Claws as Election Approaches AUSTIN Maria Mirtala Lopez grew up in the warravaged mountains of northern El Salvador and the refugee camps of its capital and witnessed the murder of her father and two elder brothers by the Salvadoran army. As a community organizer and outspoken critic of the military, she endured threats, imprisonment, and torture. Now, as director of international relations for the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Farabundo Youth Movement, Mirtala Lopez is participating in a campaign to encourage the implementation of all agreements included in the peace accords signed in New York on New Year’s Eve, 1991. Speaking before an audience of more than 50 people at the Mexic-Arte museum on Julyl, Lopez said the future of her country rests on changing the “neo-liberal policy that our government has been imposing,which has made the wealthy more wealthy and the poor poorer.” The government, she said, has been slow in implementing reforms that will improve people’s socio-economic status and provide access to health, education and housing. She described the strengthening of the civil and democratic structures of El Salvador as vital to the eradication of the military from the political arena. Lopez, mentioned as a potential candidate for El Salvador’s congress, described the 1994 elections as immensely important to the future of El Salvador. Progress in El Salvador, she said, will not continue without continued international pressure on the conservative ARENA government. Important early steps have begun, Lopez said, such as the dismantling of the elite ATLACATL Battalion responsible for the 1989 murder of the six Jesuit priests and the the dissolution of the Directorate of the Military, where these murders as well as those of Archbishop Oscar Romero, the North American Maryknoll nuns, and the massacre at El Mozote, where the Salvadoran army killed 1,000 civilians, were orchestrated. She praised the U.N.-mandated Truth Commission, formed to investigate the war crimes in El Salvador, as a critical step in the dissolution of the military establishment. “For the first time,” she said, “the moral truth of the Salvadoran people is known. This report Maria Mirtala Lopez broke open the fear of the populace to tell the truth. And all of those that said they would never be on the bench of the accused are the first that head the list of human rights violations.” One of the accused was chief of the Salvadoran armed forces, General Rene Emilio Ponce, who with 14 other high ranking military officials was recently purged from the military for war crimes. Ponce, who in 1989 was accused of ordering the assassination of the six Jesuit priests, their cook and her daughter, had denied these charges. Ponce and other officers, Lopez said, even went before the government’s ARENA-partycontrolled judicial tribunals, which had boycotted the investigations, to claim they were being defamed by their accusers. But once the U.N. commission published its report, Lopez said, the officers never said anything else. “The advancements we’ve made in demilitarization have been transcendental.” Lopez said. “We have all come together and pulled out the tiger’s claws one by one.” The changes in the military have not eradicated the death squads, which continue to exist with the financial support of Miamibased businesses, according to Lopez. The death squads, Lopez said, are trying to create psychological terror to prevent the FMLN from gaining control of El Salvador. She also cited the government’s lack of progress in land redistribution, noting that the unfair distribution of land was one of the causes of the civil war. Land distribution programs were designed but have not been implemented. The agreement in the treaty requires the redistribution of 91,000 manzanas \(a manzana is about a third of an zanas have been turned over. “The great challenge of the Salvadoran people,” Lopez said, “is to get back the land from the hands of the few who aren’t using it at all and turn it over to the campesinos, to the people who will use it.” The government and big business’ limited recogni tion of the workers contin ues, Lopez said, with their refusal to sign union accords, particularly those dealing with the rights of women in the workplace. Women workers, she said, are not granted maternity leave, are forced to work even in their last month of pregnancy and often must endure sexual abuse to keep low-paying jobs. “The [union] accords have not been signed,” Lopez said, “because the government is reluc tant to invest in the social resources needed to improve the situations of women workers.” The FMLN intends to take full advantage of the first free elections in 62 years, Lopez concluded. “Of the 262 municipalities in El Salvador, we are present in 248. ARENA is aware of this and they are not happy with the FMLN participation.” The goal is to achieve a wide representation from regions that have traditionally been marginalized, like women, youth, campesinos and laborers, and create a leftist coalition in the 1994 elections, Lopez said. “We believe it will be important,” she said, “for U.S. participation the day of the elections, and the day before the elections, as a way to guarantee free elections. We await to see you all there in the 1994 elections, verifying this historic process. The struggle continues in El Salvador.” MIGUEL RODRIGUEZ Miguel Rodriguez is an Observer editorial intern. Quotes used are from Sarah Buttrey, who interpreted for Lopez. SARAH BUTTREY THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11