Close of war brings sad elation: Church bells replaced the sound of guns as Salvadoreans signed a peace accord

Close of war brings sad elation: The peal of church bells replaced the sound of guns as Salvadoreans signed a peace accord. But there were many memories of loved ones who should have been part of the celebration
(The Globe & Mail Page A6)
Thursday, January 02, 1992

San Jose Las Flores, El Salvador — BY JEAN KAVANAGH Special to The Globe and Mail — Firework explosions and the peal of church bells replaced the thunder of bombs and gunfire that have shattered this town on previous New Year’s Eves, as El Salvador’s government and rebel army agreed to end their 11-year civil war just minutes before midnight.

But the wave of elation that filled the central plaza when guerrillas of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front marched through the cobblestone streets to spread the news was soon tinged with sadness, as the impoverished peasants remembered the thousands of family members and friends lost in the war.

Minutes after the leftist rebels’ parade, the sense of incredulity and doubt that the war could really be over was heightened with news reports that jeeps of two foreign press agencies (Reuters and The New York Times) were blown up in the capital, San Salvador, as the peace accord was announced in New York.

Throughout the 20 months of negotiations, but especially in the last weeks, far- right groups that oppose a negotiated end to the war issued death threats against a number of foreign correspondents and United Nations human-rights observers, whom they blame for legitimizing the rebels’ demands.

No one was injured in the bombings outside a San Salvador hotel, but the attacks confirmed the fears of many that far-right members of the military and government may refuse to comply with the settlement.

The final accord is scheduled to be signed on Jan. 16, after the two sides meet to work out final details. While the ceasefire is to take effect on Feb. 1, both sides have agreed not to launch military operations this month.

“This is a great step. We’ve won this peace for the country, but now the real battles start to bring democracy to El Salvador,” said Sonia Alvarez, broadcasting on Radio Farabundo Marti from this town in the province of Chalatenango, one of the country’s fiercest war zones, which is controlled by the FMLN.

“If this is what they do to foreign correspondents who work for large news agencies, just think what they might do to us,” she said on the clandestine radio, which is to become legal with the signing of the accord.

The peasants, the majority of whom live in one- or two-room makeshift houses without electricity or running water, embraced one another, repeating “praise God that it’s true,” as guerrillas danced and hugged, most with AK-47 rifles slung over their shoulders.

Military repression and the unequal distribution of land and wealth are the roots of this U.S.-backed war, started by peasants, Christian activists, leftist intellectuals and students.

Washington has backed successive centre and right-wing Salvadorean governments, and provided the armed forces with training and $4-billion in military aid.

The rural poor suffered the worst of the war, with tens of thousands taking refuge in camps in Honduras for as long as 10 years, and others displaced throughout the country. About 75,000 have died, and a million Salvadoreans are in exile around the world, including approximately 50,000 in Canada.

Francisca Talles, a 63-year-old grandmother, tried hard to join the celebration here, but tears streamed down her face as she clung to her 19- year-old daughter, an FMLN combatant. Unlike many of her neighbours, Mrs. Talles didn’t leave Chalatenango during the war, to which she lost her husband and three guerrilla sons.

“This is a happy moment for the country, but it’s also very sad for us as we remember everyone who died during all these years. They gave their blood and their lives for this peace and their people,” said Mrs. Talles, whose youngest son died in combat three weeks ago at the age of 17.

“We’ve lived terrible things, but we’ve survived. At least maybe now I won’t lose her,” she said of her daughter, Marta.

The military situation in this tiny Central American country of five million changed little in the hours after the peace plan was announced. The FMLN still has its guard posts high atop the mountains of Chalatenango, and the army is still patrolling road blocks several kilometres down the road as well as on the major highways into the capital.

A soldier on guard early yesterday said he had not received much news of the accord, and reported to his position as usual.

“We’re here guarding against terrorist attacks as usual, and we haven’t been given any new orders,” Sub-Lieutenant Lorenzo Galdamez said.