March 18, 2003 - Personal Web Page: Nancy Parker meets her fate as PCV in El Salvador

Peace Corps Online: Directory: El Salvador: Peace Corps El Salvador : The Peace Corps in El Salvador: March 18, 2003 - Personal Web Page: Nancy Parker meets her fate as PCV in El Salvador

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Nancy Parker meets her fate as PCV in El Salvador

Nancy Parker meets her fate as PCV in El Salvador

Nancy Parker, meet your FATE

Fate 1

During your senior year the Daily Californian publishes an article on the15th anniversary of the founding of the Peace Corps and even reproduces Kennedy's executive order.

You begin to research volunteering in the Peace Corps as an option for your post-graduation plans; eventually you decide to join. What did you find out about it? Why did you make this decision? Why are you interested in going to a Central American country? What other opportunities did you have after college? Why go into the Peace Corps instead of into the work force?

Fate 2

It is November, 1978 and you have been in El Salvador for almost a year. You live and work in a small village in the Chalatenango Province in the northern part of the country near the border with Honduras. You are the only Peace Corp Volunteer in the area for 50 miles. Your mail arrives once every three weeks, and to use a phone you must wait in line in the center of town and hope that the phone works -- often times it does not. Fortunately, because of your Environmental Science degree the Peace Corps were able to process your application immediately and have put you to work studying soil erosion and sustainable agriculture in this village. What is your daily life like? Where do you live? How do you communicate? How do the people in the village treat you? What projects are you working on? Do you regret the decision you made to join the Peace Corps?

Your work is going well and you are adjusting to life a universe away from Berkeley. However, you continue to hear the locals becoming increasingly frustrated with the Salvadorian government and the recent election of Carlos Humberto Romero. The political history of El Salvador is a long and complicated one. Just nine years ago, in 1969, the country was at war with neighboring Honduras and has been under military rule ever since. The country is filled with a various political groups whose names and acronyms are difficult for you to keep track of. Fortunately, all of this information was given to you during your Peace Corps training in Mexico.

You have begun to hear rumors that the marginalized peasants are trying to organize themselves into one unified party called the FLMN (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front). The Peace Corps has strongly advised you to remain neutral in regards to any political issues in the country. They remind you that you are there for humanitarian reasons only --nothing else.

On your way home one afternoon you pass this sight:

Who are the FLMN? What do you find out about them? How do you find this out? What propaganda is being spread about them by the government and by themselves? How do you react to the growing tensions? Do the Peace Corps warnings contradict the agricultural objectives of your assignment?

Fate 3

It is April of 1979 and you are five months into your recently extended term in El Salvador. Have you had any word from home? Your agricultural work continues, but the political situation, according to what you have head and seen is worsening. The villagers in your town tell stories of how the army led by President Romero have taken to abducting anyone who oppose his regime. You have also heard people talk about a growing opposition that is ready and willing to take matters into their own hand and fight the army.

elsal2.jpg (63914 bytes)Three weeks ago, on your way back from your field work, you stop in the town of Santa Ana for something to eat. During your meal you hear the familiar sounds of English being spoken at a table just out of your sight. Your immediate thought is that these must be other Peace Corps Volunteers (who else would be speaking English). As you listen to their conversation, you realize that they are not who you originally thought they were. The bits of conversations that you can pick up leads you to believe that they are somehow connected to the U. S. government... possibly CIA. You leave unnoticed and head home to Chalatenango. What are these Americans doing here? How can you find out? What are your suspicions?

The basic source of information in your area is the radio. Many of the villagers in the remote north control the radio and daily broadcasts rail against against the government and its policies of increased economic and political repression. You also hear reports of government atrocities -- it sounds like hundreds of people are now "missing" including Catholic priests. You have seen leaflets that have been dispersed throughout the country by government troops that read "Be A Patriot! Kill A Priest!" What else have you seen and heard?

Fate 4

May 1987

It has been seven years since the Peace Corps pulled you and all other PC Volunteers out of El Salvador. Since then you have relocated to Washington DC and devoted yourself to working for various human rights organizations. One of these organizations is the Human Rights Watch. From 1981-1985 what projects have you worked on? How have your experiences in El Salvador helped to shape your views on Human Rights in Central America and in the rest of the world?

In 1985 you left the Human Rights Watch to work for Democratic Senator Daniel k. Inouye from Hawaii. Why did you make this switch?

In November 1986 the tangled U.S. foreign-policy scandal known as the Iran-contra affair came to light when President Ronald Reagan confirmed reports that the United States had secretly sold arms to Iran. He stated that the goal was to improve relations with Iran, not to obtain release of U.S. hostages held in the Middle East by terrorists (although he later acknowledged that the arrangement had in fact turned into an arms-for-hostages swap). Outcry against dealings with a hostile Iran was widespread. Later in November, Att. Gen. Edwin Meese discovered that some of the arms profits had been diverted to aid the Nicaraguan "contra" rebels--at a time when Congress had prohibited such aid. An independent special prosecutor, former federal judge Lawrence E. Walsh, was appointed to probe the activities of persons involved in the arms sale or contra aid or both, including marine Lt. Col. Oliver North of the National Security Council (NSC) staff.

Reagan appointed a review board headed by former Republican senator John Tower. The Tower Commission's report in February 1987 criticized the president's passive management style. In a nationally televised address on March 4, Reagan accepted that judgment without serious disagreement.

Select Congressional committees conducted joint televised hearings from May to August. Senator Inouye served as the chair of the Committee on Secret Military Assistance to Iran and the Nicaraguan Opposition. As an Inouye aid you are allowed to attend these hearings. During these hearings what do you learn about the scandal?

On June 9th Oliver North's secretary, Fawn Hall, is called in to testify. In some of the most disturbing testimony of the hearing Hall admits to having shredded telephone records of her boss, Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, last Nov. 21 to prevent the Iran-contra initiatives from becoming "unraveled."

Occasionally flashing a temper that had been well-controlled in her first day of testimony to the House and Senate panels investigating the scandal, Hall refuses to accept any criticism of Col. North and insisted that he was "walking a fine line in an effort to do what was right" as a member of North's National Security Council "team."

Her greatest claim comes when she says, "I felt uneasy, but sometimes, like I said before, I believed in Col. North and there was a very solid and very valid reason that he must have been doing this. And sometimes you have to go above the written law, I believe."

Listening to Hall's testimony infuriates you. As her testimony concludes you navigate the courtroom in an effort to get close enough to speak to her. What do you say?

Since the turn of the century El Salvador has been under some form of military dictatorship. Most of these dictators have been intent on protecting their interests as well as those of the powerful elite and upper middle class - at the expense, of course, of the peasants and the working class.

In 1959 the influence of what then appeared to be a popular, nationalistic revolutionary movement in Cuba was felt in El Salvador as it was throughout Latin America. Student groups were particularly inspired by the example of Fidel Castro and his revolutionaries. Public demonstrations in San Salvador called for the removal of President Colonel Jose Maria Lemus and the imposition of a truly democratic system. The president responded by abandoning his earlier efforts at reform in favor of heightened repression. Free expression and assembly were banned, and political dissidents were detained arbitrarily. This instability provoked concern among important political actors in El Salvador. For the elite, the government's emphasis on economic development for the working class was pointless under such a threatening climate; the emerging middle class likewise felt a threat to its gains from the specter of revolution; and the military reacted almost reflexively to the spectacle of a president who had lost control. Lemus was deposed in a bloodless coup on October 26, 1960.

The early 1960's were a tumultuous time that were spearheaded by the formation of various political parties of moderate and leftist (communist) inclinations. Some of these were the National Conciliation Party (Partido de Conciliacion Nacional--PCN), which, eventually, became the official party in El Salvador. The PCN began as a splinter group from the Christian Democratic Party (Partido Democrata Cristiano--PDC), which eventually became the leading opponent of the PCN and a major force for peaceful change in the Salvadoran system.

The PDC was founded in November 1960. The party grew out of informal meetings among middle- and upper-class activists who sought to devise a vehicle to represent their interests in the political arena. The concerns of the Salvadoran middle class revolved around economic progress and political stability. It saw the prospects for both concerns threatened from the political right and from the left. The Salvadoran right (laissez-faire capitalism) stifled popular aspirations through its adamant opposition to reform and its support for the elite-dominated economic system. The left promised to abandon the capitalist model that had created the middle class in favor of a communistic system.

Strong economic growth in the early 1960s solidified the position of the PCN (conservative, status quo) as the official party of El Salvador. The leadership of the party was drawn mainly from the ranks of middle-class professionals although it did not successfully represent the interests of that class. The most important constituency of the PCN was the military; without its support and cooperation, the party could not have governed.The PCN government protected the political power and social and economic privilege that the military officer corps had long enjoyed. They also preserved, at least for a time, the domestic stability required for economic growth within the prevailing elite-dominated system. Like many other Latin American militaries, the Salvadoran armed forces saw the maintenance of the societal status quo as serving their best interests. The PCN shared this conservative viewpoint and worked closely with the military leadership, seeking its advice and support on policy initiatives and political issues. In essence, under the PCN the military continued to rule El Salvador from behind the scenes.

Salvadoran agricultural and business interests favored the PCN and opposed the PDC. Although a moderate party by Latin American standards, the PDC was seen by the Salvadoran right (capitalists) as a dangerously left-wing (communist) organization. The Christian Democrats' occasional use of the words revolution or revolutionary to describe their vision of social reform invoked in the minds of large landowners and businessmen images of government confiscation of property, a prospect they would go to any lengths to avoid.

The war with Honduras served as a turning point in Salvadorian politics. After the war, the PDC sought to turn the issue of unequal land distribution to its political advantage. The war had not only highlighted this issue, it had exacerbated it. Returning refugees were unable to resume the kind of farming they had practiced in Honduras.

The PDC began to push the issue of full agrarian reform, including credit and technical assistance, as a major platform plank for the 1972 presidential elections. The Christian Democrats assumed that agrarian reform was not just a popular rallying point; it was also seen as a way to establish a new class of small- to medium-sized landholders who would presumably demonstrate some loyalty to the party and the government that granted them that status. By calling for land redistribution, the PDC provoked further misgivings among the elite and conservative sectors of the military with regard to the party's intentions should it achieve power.

The 1972 elections took place in an uneasy political atmosphere. In El Salvador, organizational efforts by leftist parties (communist) and by activist Roman Catholic clergy were viewed with alarm by conservative sectors. The fears of the economic elite in particular were provoked by the 1971 kidnapping and murder of Ernesto Regalado Duenas, the son of a prominent family, by a leftist terrorist organization calling itself "the Group". A protracted teachers' strike in 1971 only added to the unsettled climate prevailing in the country.

The actual vote count in the presidential balloting of February 20, 1972, probably will never be known. As expected, the military's candidate ran strongly in the capital, San Salvador. Tabulations were suspended by the government, and a recount was initiated. The official results reversed an earlier decision by 10,000 votes. The selection of the president thus was relegated to the assembly, where the PCN majority affirmed their candidates tainted victory.

In 1963, the U.S. government sent 10 Special Forces personnel to El Salvador to help PCN General Jose Alberto Medrano set up ORDEN - the first paramilitary death squad in that country. These shadowy right-wing bands came to be known as the "death squads." The death squads targeted both religious and lay members of these groups.

In opposition to ORDEN (a PCN creation) left-wing paramilitary groups were formed. Soon after the failed coup attempt of 1972, kidnappings for ransom and hit-and-run attacks on government buildings and other targets became increasingly common in San Salvador. The left wing groups included the People's Revolutionary Army (Ejercito Revolucionario del Pueblo-- ERP) and the Farabundo Marti Popular Liberation Forces (Fuerzas Populares de Liberacion Farabundo Marti--FPL).

Popular support for radical leftist groups appeared to expand rapidly in El Salvador in the mid-1970s. Established and run secretly by the guerrilla groups, these organizations drew much of their leadership from radical Roman Catholic groups known as Christian Base Communities (Comunidades Eclesiasticas de Base--CEBs) that had been established by activist clergy throughout the country. Through public demonstrations, strikes, seizures of buildings, and propaganda campaigns, these organizations sought to undermine the government and create conditions conducive to a communist revolution.

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