EL SALVADOR: THE FMLN AFTER THE NOVEMBER 1989 OFFENSIVE

Created: 1/26/1990

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El Salvador: Tha FMLN After tho Novarabnr9 Offensive

fluauaary

The Haralat Farabundo Hartl Nationaltoopular it taction oi

rippling blow oa tha Salvadoran armadits9 offensive, but it didnotabla political galoa. Tha intensityol thm fighting probably has cavamdtha mixta, who previousmora inaiilatmd from thathm

lovernment'a ability to provide for thmu moat tabic requirement / aacurity. The FrtCI* leaderahlp. although ntill divided on thm utility ol nmgotimtlona in ehmcf tha offensive, probably belimven ita dnetonatratlca of military capabilities will ralaa douDta internationally about Kan Salvador'a ability te vjn that war and wlii tranalete Into greater lavaraga over tha government in any future talka. Thm rmbmla alao hmvm bmnmfittad from apparant Army complicity in tha Jaautt mirdara, which bava damagad San Salvador'a credibility and could threaten critical foraignuuppott If tha guilty ara not brought to juatica. ff^pjfj

Hiltterily, tha FtUi emerged from tha offensive tmakened but not defeated, and apparently haa kept many of ite regular forces intact. umber of

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including the absence of thaopular insurrection, heavy caaualtiea, and shortagea ot toed and medictne--have hurt inaurgant morale) and contributed to incraanmd daamrtiona. Moreover, the Army'* current thruat Into ratal strongholds will further hinder FHLti military plana in tha near-term.he insurgents apparently are reevaluating their strategy in light of their political gaina, and they retain sufficient forces and arme to maintain military pressure on tha government and periodically grab international attention. Tbey are moat likely to try to do this through economic sabotage, assassinations, snail scale- raids, and hsrasament rather than another all-out oftanaive on the same scale aa theirffort.

FMLN qplectlves and Motives

the rebel

offensive that began on i: .NovemberfljofTrnWrTliSting that involved months of preparation, including expanding tha support infrestructure in the capital, pre-poaitioning large quantities of munitions, and Intensive recruiting. Although the FMLN claimed tho offensive waa provoked by the deatheftist labor leader1 Outober banning, we believe the operation waa an inportant component of the inaurgenta' long-tarn strategy to seize political power, either directly or by forcing the, >vernntent to make sweeping end destabilizing concessions.

The FMLN's decision to launch the offeneive probably al was motivated by concerns about its declining military and political standing. Steady preaaura by government forces on rebel bases during the past year resulted in heavy insurgent casualties. The Inaurgenta' "election offensive" in Marchcoordinated attacks on military and civilian targets and intensive propagandizing intended to disruptan abject failure, as voters turned out an, masse.despite rebel callsoycott. In addition, the governments rejection of

rebel leader* also probably felt some urgency to boost themage abroad. they almost certainly viewed the awaeping changes in the soviet union and eaatern europearbinger of eroding international support for their cause.

despite rebel claims that the offensiveactic to gain leverege ln future negotiations with the government, there are numeroue indications that the fmln leaderahlp--at leastit as an extraordinary operation that would topple the government. unlike moat insurgenthich generally consist of coordinated harassment of military targets and economic sabotage, the november action was noteworthy for ita scope, intensity, and audacity. th* rebele' principal focus wss the capital, but they alao initiated heavy fighting throughout much of the country. including the departmente of santa ana, san miguel, and usulutan. the fmln employed the majority of its manpower, drawing dcwn forces ln ita northern bases and maintaining little. if any, effective reserve. already having intensified forced conscription during the raontha prior to the offensivs, the insurgents further swelled their ranks by impressing civilians once the fighting waa underway, according to reliable sources. in addition, they pressed aome members of their urban front groupa into combat. bbbbbbbbjbj

chronology of the. offensive

the offensive begsn onoveaujer, whenebels launched coordinated attacks, principally in tha capital. attempts to aaaaaslnate president crlstlani, vice president merino, and th* praaident and vice president of th* legislative aaaesrbly all failed. similar efforts to kill thederahip had beenew days earlier when police raided an fmln safahouss in san salvador and arrested the plottera.

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pace of the fighting slowed when the insurgents withdrew into working class neighborhoode in northern and eastern San Salvador eoon after the ot tensive began fjiafensssssj

FMLN leadership expected working claaa Salvadomnu to rise up and support then. The rebels forced some residents to help them dig ln, but many civilians fled during lulls In the fighting. The Insurgents move into the densely populated suburbs alao permitted them to use the civilian populationhield agalnat tha government's superior firepower, but the Army, relying principally on.infantry forces, succeeded in ousting the rebelseek. J

The FKLN, however, continued to keep government forcesremained in the mediaa series of bold, unexpected actions, such as the selture of the Sheraton Hotel. Onovember, insurgents infiltrated some of San Salvador's effluent western suburbs, where many US officials reside. S diplomat waa temporarily taken boat age and tha residenceenior 'JS official was destroyed. ^

insurgents back into hiding and continuee to disrupt their plana.

Although by early December the Army had pushed therebel forces out of the capital, large concentrationsremained polssd nutslde San Salvador andecond wave of attacka. Theby exaggerated reports of rebelbolstered by the discovery that Managua had shippedmissiles to thefixated on theof the capital, regainedargely

Reaul.t* of the Offensive

The rebels' clearest victory waa in the war of perceptions. Theyilitary prowess that haa boosted their credibility and focused international attention on El Salvador. The FKLN probably believes its offensive helped depict the war asolstering the argument that US assistance to the government has been ineffective and encouraging additional international pressure on San Salvador to make conceasiona during future negotletione. ii^^B

the rebels' own superior

propaganda network helped the FMLN in its battle, to shape domoatic and International opinion. Initial public and international reaction to the offensive was largely negative towards the ET1LN. Archbishopanaa condemned the

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sttacka,and announced him ekepttelam tovarda rabal

calla lot dialogue Khan tha government ajaajaaaaakj attemptedinformation about tha offensive, however, theey eonf information for Aa the fighting dragged on. familiarnotably chargaa oftha Airred greater currency. greatly

the potency these chargaa rebels ware

target iron and spraying buildings

with machlnegun fire to simulate the effects of indiscriminate strafing. IfjTjaaal

The murder of the aix Jeault prleete end two woman on is Novemberritical turning point ln International perceptlona of tha offensive. Attention, particularly in Washington and other foreign capitals, ehlfted from the lnaurgent-initiased violence to the aurdera. which evoked memories of the rampant human rlghta abuaca of the early lfBCe and caat the government aa Ineffectual at beat. and. at werat, openly repreaalva. Inaurgent propaganda waa able to capitalise further on chargaa of government repraeelonaault of aearchea and arrests directed at churches or religious groups in San Salvador suspected of supporting the bj

In addition, tha offensive altered domeetlc perceptlona about the government'a credibility and authority. The rebela1 seeming ability to operate with Impunity throughout the capital no doubt ahook the faith of manythose directly affected by the fighting--ln the government's ability to provide for their security. ack of confidence will not only contribute to elite emigration, capital flight, low lnvaatment, and other practicalut in tha long run alao could, in our Judgment, undermine the democratic oroceai and hinder efforts toolitical conaeneue.

Deeplta these gains, the FMLN alao suffarad some important political and military setbacks. Salvadorana' failure to rise upopular insurrection or to voluntarily support tha sabela ln any significant numbers indicatae theopular aupport is not broad enough to poaeBarlows political challenge to the government.

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Outlook

Despite thailitary shortcomings, the FMLN leadership recognizes tha potential for exploiting Ita political galna and appears already to have reevaluated ite strategy. Id the naxt few months, the insurgents probably will enphaalsa negotiations coupled with military actions, such as sabotage, ambushes, harassment, and assassinations. Babel success inayas President Crlstlanl or Chief of Staffdramatically weaken public confidence in tha governaent and promote greater political instability.

econd largescale offensive cannot be ruled out, most rebal commanders probably now aae their military objective as an adjunctolitical solution ratherecisive defeat of government forces. Cuba and Nicaragua aside, raost of the FMLN'a foreignthe offensive's militarywill encourage them toegotiated aettlement. Nonetheless, the rebels no doubt beiievs continuad militaryhigh profile actions in thsneceasary to strengthen their bargaining position. If they employed sufficient numbers of their recently acquiredreater degree of accuracy than demonstrated thus far--the rebels may even attempt toajor military base. pjj^pjj

Talks are unlikely to yield tangible raaults until one side either altars its key objective or opts to make dramatic concessions--both unlikely davelopnants in the near term. In our view. Thar* la no evidence to indicate that tha EKW has altered ita view of negotiationsactical device to undermine Washington's and San Salvador's resolve and to boost its own international credibility. Meanwhile, at least on* senior rebel commander reportadly still favors an exclusively military strategy and may mount independent operations. aTf^ifH

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