EL SALVADOR: THE FMLN AFTER THE NOVEMBER 1989 OFFENSIVE

Created: 1/26/1990

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l Salvador; Tha EMLM Aftar

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/tarxlstrtl national Liberation Front (FHLK) fa Had toopular inaut rectlon orrippling blow on torn Salvador an armed forces with itt9 offensive, but it did achieve some notable political gains. The intensity end duration of the fighting probably hae cawed many Saivadoraiifparttculaely the elite. who previously were more Insulated from theQuestion the government'a ability to provide for their moat basic requirementi security. The FMCfl Inertmrshlp. although still divided on tha utility of nagot.latitats in the watte of the offensive, probably believes its demonstration of military capabilities will raise doubts internationally about San Salvador's ability to win the war and will translate intoeverage over the government in any future talka. The rebels also have benefitted Irom apparent Army complicity io the Jesuit murders. which have damaged San Salvador'a credibility and could threaten critical foreign auppott if the guilty are not brought to justice.

Milter tly, the FnUt emerged from the offensive weakened but not defeated, and apparently has kept many of Its regvlsr forces intact. umber of factors-'

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including the absence ol the anticipated popular inaurrectton, hmavy casualties, and shortages of toed andhurt Insurgent morale and contributed to Increased desertions. Moreover, the Army's current thrust into rebel atrongholefs will further hinder PHLN military plans in the near-term, nonetheless, the Insurgents apparently are reevaluating their strategy in light of their political gains, and they retain sufficient forces and arms to maintain military pressure on the government end periodically grab international attention. They are most likely to try to do this through economic sabotage, assassinations, smallscale raids, and harassment rather than another all-out offensive on the seme scale as their November effort. I

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biecMves and Motive*

the retci.

offensive that began onovemberajor undertaking that Involved months of preparation, including expanding tho support infrestructure In the capital, pre-posltionlng large quantities of Munitions, and Intsnslvt recruiting. Although the FMLN claimed tho offensive waa provoked by the deatheftist labor leader1 October bofsbing, we believe the operation waa an important component of the insurgents' long-term strategy to seize political power, either directly or by forcing the government to make sweeping and destabilizing concessions. Their .November action was consistent with the strategic vision outlined

[which predicted

tfcat various international and dome otic political developments wouldhe optimum tine for pressing an all-out military offensive andopular insurrection.

ropaganda activities, and low-risk military operations would generate increased antlgoverrunent eentiment and popular support for an lnaurrection--to be sparked by the offer.nlve--th.it would topple the government.

Theecision to launch the offensive probably also waa motivated by concema about ita declining military and political standing. Steady proasure by goverrwaent forces on rebel baees during the past year resulted In heavy insurgent caaualtlee. The Insurgents1 "election offensive" ir. Marchcoordinated attacks on military and civilian targets and intensive propagandising intended to disrupt bal lotlng--wae an abject failure, as voters turned out en, maass.despits rebel callsoycott. In addition, the government's rejection of

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insurgent proposals during peace talks last autumn reportedly hardened the reaolve of aome commandera to proceed with the attack plan.

Rebel leaders also probably felt aome urgency to boost the FMLN'a image abroad. They almost certainly viewed the sweeping changes ln the Soviet Onion and Eastern Europearbinger of eroding international support for their cause, r"

Despite rebel claims that the offensiveactic to gain leverage ln future negotiations with tha government, there are numerous indications that the rHLNleastit as an extraordinary operation that would topple the government. Unlike most insurgenthich generally consist of coordinatedof military targets and economic sabotage, the November action was noteworthy for ita scope, intensity, and audacity. The rebels* principal focus waa the capital, but they alao initiated heavy fighting throughout much of the country, including the departments of Santa Ana, San Miguel, and Uaulutan. The FMLN employed the majority of Its manpower, drawing down forces In ite northern basas and maintaining little, it any, effective reeerve. Already having intensified forced conscription during the months prior to the offsnslvs, the Insurgents further swelled their rentes by isprsssing olvlllena once the fighting waa underway, eccordlng reliable aourees. In edditlon, they pressed soife members of their urban front groups into combat.

of the Offensive

The offenaive begen onovember, whenebels launched coordinated attacks, principally ln the capital. Attempts to assassinate President Cristiani, Vice President Merino, and ths president and vies president of the Legielatlve Assembly ell failed. Similar efforts to kill the military leadership had beenew days earlier when police

raided an FMLN aafehouss in San Salvador and arrested the

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Mic.iougi: rignnng around some of these baoae 'was captured or destroyed.

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pace of the fighting alowed when the insurgentsworking claee neighborhoods In nortlvem and eaaterneoon after the offensive began.

indicate the FMLN leadership expected working claaa Salvadorans to rise up and support them. Tha rebels forced soms residents to help them dig In. but many civillens fled during lulls in the fighting. The insurgents' move into the danaely populated suburbs also permitted than to use the civilian populationhield against the government's aupsrlor firepower, but the Army, relying principally on infantry forces, succeeded in ousting the rcbclneek.

The FMLN, however, continued to keep governatent forcesremained in the mediaeriesunexpected actions, such aa the seiture of the Onovember, insurgents infiltrated some ofaffluent western auburba. where many US S diplomat wae temporarily taken hostageenior US official wae destroyed.

Although by early December the Army had puehed the majority of rebel forces out of the capital, large concentrations of insurgents remained poleedSan Salvador and other major cltioe,econd wave of attacks. Th* Army, Inhibited by exaggerated reports of rebeloncern bolstered by the discovery that Managua had shippedurface-to-air missiles to thefixated on the strategic significance of th* capital, remainedargely defenalve, reactive posture. US prodding

eventually encouraged the iligh Xonunana co ai spawn several battallone against the ntaeaed insurgents. This campaign has not to date resulted in eny dramatic gaina, but has forced many .Insurgents bach Into hiding and continues to disrupt their plans.

Results of the Offensive

The rebels' clearest victory was in ths war of psrceptlons. Theyilitary prowess that haa boosted their credibility and focused international attention on El Salvador. The FMLN probably ita offensive ho'.pad depict tho var hbolstering the argument that US assistance to tha government has bean Ineffective and encouraging additional international pressure on San Salvador to make concessions during future negotiations.

Government ineptitude and the rebels' own aupexlor propaganda network helped the FMLN in its battle, to ahape domestic end international opinion. Initialid international reaction to the offensive, wae largely negative towards the FMLN. ArchbishopBmas condemned the

ffCCNT'i'i'r ORCON

these allegations were greatly exaggerated,

rebels were observed after sore aerial

or example, and announcedkapticlsa towarda rebel calla for dialogue. When the government clumsily attempted to censor information about tha offensive, however,adio broadcastsey source of information for many Salvadorans. Aa the fighting dragged on, familiar FMLN propagandanotably charges of Indiscriminate bombing by the Airgreater currency.

the FMLN recognized the potency of theae charges and,

attacks moving bodies to the target areaa and spraying bulldlnga with machlnsgun fire to simulate the effects of indiscriminate strafing, ['" ]

Thai lawrcVar of the six Jesuit prieete and two women onovemberritical turning point in international perceptions of tha offenalve. Attention, pai clcularly in Washington and other foreign capitals, shifted frost tha insurgent-lnltisted violence to th* murctere, which evoked revotiee of th* rampant human rights abuses of th*Ci and cast th* omv*rnm*nt as ineffectual at best, and. at worst, opsnly repressive, Insurgent propaganda was able to capltslil* further on charges ot government repressionesult of searches and arrests directedhurehea or religious group* in San Salvador suapected of supporting the FMLN.

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In addition, th* offenalve altered domestic perceptions about the government'a credibility and authority. The rebels' seeming ability to operate with impunity throughout th* capltsl no doubt shook th* faith of manytlcu:arly those directly affected by th*th* govairoent'e ability to provide for their eecurlty. ack of confidence will not only contribute to elite emigration, capital flight, low lnv**tmont. and other practicalut in the long run also could. In our Judgment, undermine the democratic process and hinder efforts toolitical conaanaui

Despite these gains, the FMLN also suffered acr-eand military setbacks. Salvedorans' failure to risea popular insurrection or to voluntarily support the rebelesignificant numbers indicates the FMLN's popular supportbroad enough toerious political challenge to The expoaure of many urban front groupparticipating In combat i

has, fcr tha time being, crippled the

olitical apparatus in, the

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The FMLN's military losses may be offset somewhat by other factors.

Outlook

Deep tte the offensive's military shortcomings, the FKLN leadership recognises the potential for exploiting its politlcel gslne and appears already to have reevaluated ite strategy. Ia the next few raonthe, the inaurgento probably will emphasize negotiations coupled with military actions, auch as sabotage, ambushes, harassment, and assassinations. Rebel success ineyas Fraaident Cristiani or Chief of Staffdramatically weaken public confidence in the government and promote greater political Instability.

econd lsrgescale offensive cannot be ruledrebel commanders probably now aae their militsryan adjunctolitical solution rather then aof government forces. Cuba and Nicaragua aside, mostFMLN'e foreignthe offensive'swill encourage them to pursue a Nonetheless, th* rebels no doubt believehigh profile actions innecesaary to strengthen their bargainingthey employed sufficient numbers of thsirreater degreethan demonstrated thusrebels mayajor military baae.

Talks are unlikely to yield tangible results until one side either altersbJ*ctlv* or opts to mak* dramaticunlikely developmente in the near term, in our view. There is no evidence to indicate that th* FKLN has altered its view of negotiationsactical device to undermine Washington'* and San Salvador'e resolve end to booet ite own international credibility. Meanwhile, at least one senior rebel commander reportedly still favors an exclusively military strategy and may mount independent operation*.

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