Mass Media (UMass-Boston)
March 3, 1981
Junta in El Salvador is the right wing
by Michael Letwin
In recent weeks, the US government has declared that it will do “whatever necessary” to protect the ruling military junta in El Salvador from popular insurrection.
The US has provided $35 million in military aid to the ruling junta in 1981 alone. It has “loaned” helicopters to the junta for an unlimited time. There are, according to the administration, 54 military advisers aiding the junta in a “non-combatant” capacity
Further, steps being considered by the Reagan administration include $25-80 million more in military aid, additional military advisers, a naval and/or air blockade of El Salvador and neighboring Nicaragua, and perhaps even actions against Cuba. Reagan and his spokesman declare that they “do not rule out anything” in their attempts to save the junta, including the use of US combat troops.
The administration is attempting to justify this budding Vietnam with two arguments. The first is that the El Salvadoran junta is really a “moderate,” “democratic,” and “reformist” government, under attack from “terrorists” of the extreme right and left.
The second argument is that the revolutionary movement is only a puppet of Russian and Cuban “aggression,” a claim based on what the administration claims are captured guerrilla documents which, it says, show that Russia and its allies are supplying large quantities of arms to the El Salvadoran guerrillas.
You’ve heard it before: The “Free World” vs. the “International Communist Conspiracy.”
Although faithfully and uncritically repeated by the US media, these arguments don’t stand up to reality.
First of all, the junta in El Salvador is the rightwing in the country, representing the interests of the traditional landowning oligarchy known as the “14 Families,” and those of American and other foreign corporations who for decades have plundered El Salvador.
Traditionally, 2% of the population has owned 60% of the land, while American companies such as Exxon, International Basic Coffee Co., Western Electric, Alcoa, Texaco, US Steel and Bank of America have controlled the country’s natural resources and industry, reaping enormous profits based on the low wages paid to peasants and workers (NACLA Report, March-April 1980).
The conditions for the people of El Salvador, on the other hand, have been among the worst in Latin America.
In the mid-70’s, the UN and other organizations reported that 75% of the children under 5 were malnourished, 50% unemployed, 50% illiterate, 33% living in one-room shacks, 63% without running water, and 90% earning less than $100 a year (fact sheet, Boston Coalition in Solidarity With the People of El Salvador).
The situation has been maintained by US-backed military dictatorships without interruption since 1932, and despite the administration’s claims to the contrary, the current junta is no exception.
According to Amnesty International, the Catholic Church of El Salvador, the El Salvador Human Rights Commission, and on occasion, the US press, the current junta is responsible for the murder of the vast majority of the 10,000-15,000 people killed in 1980 alone (see, for example, New York Times Magazine 2/22/81.)
The much mentioned economic reforms of the junta are a pretense. Less than 2% of the agricultural land has been affected by the government’s land reform program, and peasants who try to take land promised them are murdered by the junta’s securithy forces. Moreover, the junta’s formal proclamations don‘t even pretend to put the country’s industrial enterprises into the hands of the people who work them (Newsletter of the Religious Task Force in El Salvador, Washington DC, Nov.-Dec. 1980).
It’s not surprising, therefore, that the only people who support the El Salvadoran junta are the 14 Families, the foreign corporations, and the US government, whose creation the junta is.
Reagan’s claims of International Communist Conspiracy are equally suspicious. To begin with, we have only the administration’s word as to the authenticity of the documents the US claims to have captured. Given the widespread falsification of documents and outright lies by the US government during the Vietnam War, its present claims should be viewed with great skepticism (see the Pentagon Papers).
Secondly, it is more than a little hypocritical for the US government to denounce foreign arms shipments to El Salvador, since for decades it has armed a series of military regimes there. And although the Reagan administration recently claimed that no US arms have gone to El Salvador between 1977-81, the facts are otherwise.
For example, in 1979, the Carter Administration sent the junta $205,000 in antiriot equipment and $300,000 in military training credits. In April 1980, the US sent $57 million in so-called military assistance, including trucks, riot control gear, grenades, communications equipment, and transport vehicles.
The only foreign military advisers in El Salvador are from the US; the guerrillas claim they number over 100 and have participated in the fighting.
In addition, the junta has been well supplied by US allies, including Israel, France and Brazil (NACLA Reports, March-April 1980; The Militant, 7/25/80).
Finally, if for some self-serving reason the USSR and its allies are supplying arms to the guerrillas, it is the conditions in El Salvador itself, and not the assistance, which is responsible for the revolution there. As an American diplomat in El Salvador said recently, “Even if it were not for Cuba and the Soviet Union, we’d have a revolution here.” (New York Times Magazine, 2/22/81.)
Whatever the intentions of the Russian government, there is no evidence the revolution in El Salvador is in any way controlled by it.
And where the guerrillas will use whatever arms they can get to overthrow one of the most brutal regimes in existence, US aid go to the forces responsible for the mass slaughter.
The Reagan administration is employing the “Big Lie” method of persuasion, just as the US did in Vietnam. Such a maneuver is necessary today because of the great amount of skepticism and even growing opposition that exists in this country to the re-creation of a Vietnam in El Salvador.