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Citation: David Stuart, "United Nations Involvement in the Peace Process in El Salvador," chap. in Building International Community, Kevin Clements and Robin Ward, eds. (St. Leonards, Australia: Allen & Unwin, 1994) pp. 261-272.
A 1931 coup installed a military government in El Salvador. Over the next thirty years the military government, in cooperation with wealthy land owners, pursued policies designed to divide the middle and lower classes, and reduce the freedoms of the middle class. Honduras closed its borders to El Salvador in 1969. No longer able to relocate to Honduras, landless farmers were forced to emigrate into the cities. The resulting social pressures sparked revolutionary and reformist movements. When reformists won the 1972 elections, the military manipulated the results, claiming victory for themselves. Violent extremist groups proliferated on both the left and right, engaging in domestic terrorism and assassination. By 1990, the main opponents were the leftist FMLN, and the elected government which was controlled by ARENA, a party organized in response to leftist extremists.
In April 1990 representatives from the FMLN and the Government met in Geneva under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General. While both sides expressed a desire to end their violent conflict, international pressure played a significant role in producing a settlement. The U.S. was threatening to cut military aid to the Government. The collapse of the Soviet Union cut support for the FMLN. U.S. and Soviet pressure encouraged other Central American nations to make good on the 1985 Esquipulas Agreement to pursue regional peace.
The parties reached an opening Agreement on Human Rights in July 1990. A cease-fire was declared in September 1991, and a comprehensive settlement was signed in January 1992. The Peace Accords "aimed not only to bring about a cessation of conflict, but also to remove original causes of the conflict and promote democratization and reconciliation among Salvadorans."[p.263]
The UN played important roles both in supporting peace negotiations and in implementation of the Peace Accords. At the request of both parties, UN observers were deployed in El Salvador, in advance of a cease-fire, to monitor the Human Rights Agreement. The United Nations Observer Mission in El Salvador (ONUSAL) was subsequently charged with verifying all aspects of the cease-fire, and then of the Peace Accords. ONUSAL also assisted in the formation of the new National Civil Police and the new Armed Forces Reserve System, assisting in clearing minefields and monitoring the situations of ex-combatants.
Stuart points out a number of factors which contributed to the success of the UN efforts. Both the government and the FMLN wanted to retain international credibility. Both sides requested and supported UN human rights oversight. Both sides had given up on a military victory. While they mistrusted each other, both parties were willing to rely on the good offices of the UN. Finally, both sides had lost the backing of their weapons suppliers.
Stuart argues that the economic and political issues underlying El Salvador's civil war must be addressed if the peace is to last. To this end UN peacemaking must be better coordinated with World Bank and IMF programs. The economic policies required by the World Bank have impaired implementation of the UN sponsored Peace Accords in El Salvador somewhat.
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