The Text of 'The El Salvador Dissent Paper'

'...By Current and Former Analysts and Officials'


To: Dissent Channel


Re: DM-ESCA # 80-3

Statement of Purpose

The Reagan Administration's first international crisis may well be in El Salvador. Candidate Reagan's foreign policy advisors have made deeply disturbing statements about their plans for Central America and the Caribbean basin.

However, should President Reagan choose to use military force in El Salvador, historians will be able to show that the setting for such actions had been prepared in the last year of the Carter Administration. There may still be time to change course during the transition period. If the effort fails we will continue to argue for a negotiated resolution of the conflict. We recall, perhaps with unwarranted optimism, that it was Mrs. Thatcher--and not her Labor predecessors--who brought the Rhodesian crisis to a peaceful end. We hope that moderation and reason will prevail among President Reagan's appointees.

We see current US activities in El Salvador as leading to increased military engagement with far reaching implications for our strategic interests in the Caribbean basin. Support for our policies is limited and unreliable. Our identification with the governing Junta in that country has placed us in a collision course with key regional actors with whom we need to maintain friendly and cooperative diplomatic and economic relations.

By contrast, the non-military, negotiated solution proposed in this paper may well enjoy broad international support and acceptance. This option is seen as most effective in achieving the two key objectives of US policy in this region: limiting Cuban and Soviet expansion and promoting the emergence of stable and pluralistic governments.

The views articulated in this paper are shared in private by current and former analysts and officials at NSC, DOS, DOD and CIA. Employees from other agencies active in El Salvador and Central America--but normally excluded from policy debates--also contributed to these notes. In this case, their close contact with the situation in the field provided us with valuable insights and uncommon objectivity.

Members of Congress and their staffs, concerned by developments in the region and disturbed by the implications of some aspects of current policy, also participated in this effort.

It is our intention that this dissenting paper circulate widely among makers and executors of policy, in the Carter and Reagan administrations. We trust it will promote open discussion of realistic alternatives to our potential escalated military involvement in Central America and the Caribbean.

Summary and Recommendations

The Carter administration has gradually increased US political diplomatic, economic and military involvement in support of the civilian-military coaltion government in El Salvador. This involvement is extensive and growing. The resources invested in this effort exceed those allocated to any other hemispheric crisis since 1965.

Resource allocation and official public statements have identified our strategic interests in Central America and the Caribbean with the fate of a relatively weak, unpopular and internationally isolated regime.

Various government agencies have taken preparatory steps to intervene militarily in El Salvador. Policy makers appear to have concluded that such a move could succeed in preventing the collapse of the current regime.

Current policy consistently underestimates the domestic legitimacy and international support enjoyed by the opposition FDR/DRU coalition. Furthermore, policy makers fail to recognize the scope of military capabilities of opposition guerrilla forces and ignore the logistical value and potential impact of their support in neighboring countries.

Contingency scenarios for US military deployment tend to underestimates troop requirements, estimates of casualty rates, and the time and geographic scope of required engagement. Politico-military analysts downplay the potential for regionalization of armed conflict in the isthmus. In particular they underestimate the implications of the Nicaraguan and Cuban commitment to provide military support to Salvadorean guerilla forces in the event of continued escalation of US involvement. No serious consideration appears to have been given to global security implications of an escalated regional conflict involving US, Cuban, Nicaraguan, Venezuelan and other participants.

Diplomatic analysts overestimate the extent of current Venezuelan and Costa Rican commitment to continue to support our current policy in El Salvador. They also tend to minimize the political costs of world reaction to follow any increased deployment of US military personnel or equipment in the area.

The articulation of US policy for public and congressional audiences has misrepresented the situation in El Salvador emphasizing the viability of the current regime, downplaying its responsibility for the excesses being committed by security and paramilitary forces, exaggerating the positive impact of current reforms.

[A section of the Crimson's copy of the dissent paper is indecipherable at this point.]


A new policy towards El Salvador will have to address the following issues:

1. Recognition of the FDR/FDU. There can be no improvement of our negotiating position and no resolution to the current conflict without the US officially signaling the world community that it acknowledges that the FDR/DRU coalition is a legitimate and representative political force in El Salvador.

This recognition will be a key indicator to intransigent sectors on the left and the right that a real change of attitude has taken place in Washington.

2. Signal our willingness to abandon the confrontational track. Salvadorean and international public opinion perceive the US as being committed to a military solution in Central America. We must signal our willingness to abandon this course of action under certain conditions if an appropriate environment for negotiations is to emerge. To do so we must consider:

1) Taking actions which will clearly separate us from those sectors inside and outside the armed forces responsible for gross excesses against the population. The individuals involved have been identified by the FDR/DRU and by our own intelligence services.

2) Taking actions to reduce the level of military support we are currently providing to the armed forces, for example, by reducing or interrupting our training program and military supply flows.

3) Condemning the intervention plans of Guatemalan military and paramilitary forces and indicating our opposition to Honduran encouragement of hostile actions against Nicaragua.

4) Expressing privately and publicly our concern regarding continued involvement of Southern Cone countries in El Salvador and urging all our allies, including Israel, to act with caution in the region.

3. Maintain a low profile throughout the process of disengagement. The US does not have at this time the political credibility to spearhead a mediation effort. We should encourage and support initiatives taken by other regional actors avoiding direct participation. Our direct involvement may limit our ability to influence the process and may become an obstacle to mutual concessions.

4. Encourage pluralistic media coverage. Conditions in El Salvador and our official posture have not encouraged adequate media coverage. Influential US journalists have been banned from the country by threats on their lives. Salvadorean government restrictions on visiting reporters have kept a tight lid on many critical events in the past six months. Informal signals to foreign desk editors during the electoral campaign discouraged their interest in the region.

Appropriate, objective and pluralistic media coverage will make a positive contribution to the search for a peaceful solution to the conflict in El Salvador and, indeed, throughout Central America.

A. Current Role in El Salvador

Policy statements on Central America, whether for internal use or for congressional or public consumption are inadequate starting points for discussion of our current role in the region. Rather than focusing on the articulation of policy objectives and their rationale, we prefer to outline the actions of our government agencies which affect developments in El Salvador.

We have ascertained that the activities grouped and listed below are being implemented by no less than twelve agencies of the government and supported by numerous NGO's.

The following is a partial list of these activities:

1. Improving political and economic conditions to increase viability of current governing coalition through:

* Accelerating disbursement of bilateral economic aid and providing administrative and technical assistance.

* Supporting approval and expediting disbursements of IBRD, IDB and IMF new and pipeline programs and projects under consideration.

* Setting up of US/Salvadorean technical and managerial team to assist in government planning and administration to prevent economic collapse.

* Expanding resource flow and tightening administration of agrarian reform program to reduce its impact on traditional elite and to increase short term benefits to target population.

* Expanding short-term resource flow to private sector to discourage current capital exodus and strengthen sectoral confidence.

* Monitoring closely and moderating latent and open differences among members of governing Junta and the officers corps.

2. Improving and protecting the international legitimacy and prestige of the regime through:

* Encouraging Salvadorean recruitment of moderate, reformist personnel for diplomatic representation.

* Providing logistical support and orientation through US embassies and missions.

* Actively encouraging increased diplomatic support from sympathetic Latin American and other allied governments.

* Discouraging resolutions and other diplomatic initiatives critical of current government or possibly contributing to the legitimation of opposition forces.

* Activating mechanisms to disrupt opposition efforts to obtain international support and legitimacy and to limit the impact of such efforts.

* Creating favorable conditions for other countries' involvement in support for US initiatives in the OAS and the UN in relation to the situation in Central America.

Closely monitoring and feeding US and world media coverage of the region and publicizing widely US confidence in and support for current process in El Salvador.

3. Strengthening counter-insurgency capabilities of armed forces through:

* Increased training for middle and low ranking officers.

* Improving military infrastructures for more effective urban and rural combat communications and for rapid troop deployment.

* Setting up adequate supply lines and stockpiling material in cooperation with regional and extra-hemispheric allies.

* Providing strategic and tactical command advisory assistance.

* Increasing cohesion and coordination among various command structures within Salvadorean armed forces.

* Seeking to bring under unified command the paramilitary units operating in the country.

* Establishing and/or improving communications and cooperation among armed forces and paramilitary organizations in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

* Making available US surveillance data pertinent to military developments in El Salvador to the armed forces.

4. Updating detailed contingency plans for US alternative responses to deterioration of conditions in the region to include:

* Political and diplomatic initiatives to be taken in the event that military engagement of US forces is required to preserve the current regime.

* Operational plans for multilateral and unilateral deployment of military forces in El Salvador and Guatemala.

* Cost, casualty and time estimates under favorable and unfavorable conflict scenarios. Evaluation of readiness status and recommendations on preparatory exercises to be undertaken.

* Assessment of the need and preparation of contingency plans for actions intended to disrupt support and supply lines of Salvadorean guerrilla forces in Cuba and Nicaragua.

5. Assuring continued congressional and public opinion support for current policies through liaison and press relations efforts that emphasize:

* A moderate and reformist image of the current government.

US support for extensive but moderate reforms in the region as a means to contain extremist and communist expansion.

* Linkages between opposition guerrilla groups in El Salvador and Guatemala with Cuba.

* Discrediting centrist spokesmen of opposition as puppets of hardline guerrilla leaders.

Careful monitoring of US press coverage of developments in El Salvador to avoid Nicaraguan style publicity for opposition insurgents.

* Arranging regular closed session briefings for congressional committees, sub-committees and key MC's concerned with the issue.

This partial list of activities implies an allocation of bureaucratic and financial resources exceeding those made to any other hemispheric crisis since 1965. No such allocation could have taken place without a major high level decision in the administration. This decision was made in part to prevent the crisis in El Salvador from climaxing prior to the elections. However, the choices made have strategic implications reaching beyond domestic political considerations.

The Carter administration came to the conclusion that the collapse of the current civilian-military coalition government in El Salvador and its replacement by a left wing regime would constitute a threat to our strategic interests in the Caribbean basin.

Policy makers also agreed that the US still has a chance of preventing such developments through the provision of overt and covert political, military, economic, technical, diplomatic and public relations assistance to the current regime. However, if this effort failed to stabilize the local situation, the US would let it be known that it is prepared to and will use military force in conjunction with others, or, if necessary, unilaterally.

We consider these activities and the policies they imply to be dangerously misguided. Current policy, as we interpret it, is based on inaccurate intelligence, and on the suppression within various bureaucracies of verified contradicting information.

The options and recommendations on which policy decisions were made have been based on irresponsibly self-serving evaluations and analyses of intelligence reports available within the agencies. Critiques and dissenting views were systematically ignored.

B. An Alternate View of Regional and International Factors Affecting El Salvador

In this section we outline a characterization of the situation in El Salvador and its international context which is drastically different from the one commonly accepted within the Department.

The outline is based on a condensation of statements, commentaries, reports and memoranda available throughout various agencies of the government. We are not aware of any request for this information to be assembled for evaluation for for discussion.

1. El Salvador's domestic situation

* The governing Junta and the armed forces have failed to rally significant support for their reform and counter-insurgency programs.

* The land redistribution effort has failed to neutralize the peasant population and has not succeeded in isolating the guerrilla forces.

* The urban middle class is divided among those who have already chosen to side with the FDR opposition, those seeking to leave the country and those remaining neutral for the time being. Only a small fraction of this sector can be said to be committed to the survival of the current regime.

* Domestic and foreign businesses have nearly completed liquidating their assets and withdrawing their capital from the country. No significant private investment is taking place. Infusion of foreign assistance and loans is not having any significant impact on economic recovery.

* Conflict among members of the ruling coalition continues to spread. New defections from the Christian Democratic party and factional fighting among and within branches of the armed forces impede regime consolidation.

* The documented expansion of military capabilities of the opposition forces, including their ability to recruit and organize large contingents of displaced peasants, and to cause heavy casualties among government forces, makes it highly unlikely that a short term military defeat of the guerilla forces might be achieved.

* Neither the government nor the armed forces have been able to demonstrate their will or ability to avoid indiscriminate repression of civilian personnel thus contributing to the rapid deterioration of their image among the population and internationally.

2. Regional factors

It is misleading to examine developments in El Salvador outside the Central American and Caribbean context. Although policy statements and analyses routinely include references to regional concerns, seldom is an attempt made at relating domestic developments in one country with those within its neighbors'.


The trends below are pertinent to short term development in El Salvador:

Political power in the country is firmly in the hands of the hardline faction of the military, paramilitary and civilian elites. Among them there is near unanimous rejection of any reformist or moderating changes in regime composition or program.

* In recent years, the Guatemalan military have beenreferring to an expanded definition of their country's national and territorial interests that contemplates the possibility of intervention in neighboring Belize and El Salvador.

* Opposition forces have unified in a broad coalition which includes moderate reformers, parts of the church, and the marxist and populist guerrilla groups.

* A paramilitary strike force made up of former members of the Nicaraguan National Guard, anti-Castro Cubans, Guatemalan military personnel and mercenaries has been formed in the past year. Spokesmen for this contingent have expressed their intention to intervene in El Salvador "when the situation requires it."

* There has been a significant improvement of the military capabilities of the guerrilla forces in Guatemala. Their prestige and following among Indian peasants as well as among the urban middle classes has been will documented.

* Repression of moderate political and trade union leaders continues to accentuate political polarization and has led to the practical liquidation of the political center. Reflecting this internal situation, the international image of the regime continues to deteriorate.

* In the past year Salvadorean and Guatemalan opposition forces have increased contacts, communication and cooperation on political and military matters.

It should be noted that US intelligence has kept informed of the plans and capabilities of the paramilitary strike force in Guatemala. US intelligence has been in contact with Nicaraguan exile groups in Guatemala and in Miami and it is aware of their relationship with Cuban exile terrorist groups operating in the US. Charges that CIA has been promoting and encouraging these organizations have not been substantiated. However no attempt has been made to restrict their mobility in and out of the US or to interfere with their activities. Their mobility and their links with the US--it seems reasonable to assume--could not be maintained without the tacit consent (or practical incompetence) of at least four agencies: INS, CIA, FBI and US Customs.


During 1980 DOD has devoted considerable resources to expanding communications and improving relations with the Honduran armed forces. DOD's stated objective has been "to create a new balance in the region" after the fall of Somoza's National Guard. The discussions with Honduran officers have been characterized as "encouraging," "fruitful," and "successful" at different stages of the process. These discussions included the following topics:

* Agreement on role of the US as mediator in seeking a settlement of disputes between El Salvador and Honduras.

* The need for increased cooperation between Honduras and El Salvador armed forces to reassert government control over disputed border areas currently held by Salvadorean guerrillas.

* US and Honduran cooperation in resupply efforts to El Salvador's armed forces in the event of a large scale insurrectional offensive.

* US willingness to assist Honduras in case of outbreak of open hostilities with Nicaragua.

Although our efforts in Honduras have already proven very useful, their impact has been exaggerated by a failure to take account of domestic developments in that country:

* A hard line majority within the military establishment has been pressuring to contain and even reverse the democratization process. It is with representatives of this faction that the agreements above were discussed.

* This headline faction favors counter-insurgency cooperation with El Salvador, tolerates and encourages National Guard exile groups hostile to Nicaragua to operate from Honduras, and believes it could win a military confrontation with Nicaragua.

* A minority moderate faction within the armed forces is seeking closer relations with the civilian democratic opposition. It favors friendly relations with the Nicaraguan government and with the FSLN. It wants no Honduran involvement in El Salvador. It considers that open conflict with Nicaragua could prove dangerously destabilizing for Honduras and is not convinced of the possibility of defeating the new Sandinista army and militias.

* There has been a notable increase in trade union, religious, professional and political activity in Honduras. The organizations involved share a sympathetic view of the Nicaraguan process and oppose Honduras support for El Salvador's armed forces.

* Rural and urban guerrilla groups have begun to operate in Honduras in the past year. Although their capabilities pose no threat to internal stability, their disruptive potential in the event of gradual regionalization of conflict should not be underestimated.


The following background items should be kept in mind in attempting to predict Nicaraguan behavior in the event of escalated US involvement in El Salvador:

* Cooperation between the FSLN and various branches of the Salvadorean guerrilla groups can be traced back to the mid 1970's. Salvadorean contingents participated and provided logistical support during the war in Nicaragua. Historically, cooperation between the two countries against US interventions is documented in the 1920's and during the 19th century.

* Prior to July 1979, the FSLN maintained support networks in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. FSLN commanders and troops are familiar with the terrain and the population. Nicaraguans have extensive family ties in these countries.

* Widespread popular support for the opposition forces in El Salvador and Guatemala, the high level of military preparedness of the population, the recent combat and insurrectional experience, and the high levels of unemployment would make recruitment and training a relatively simple and rapid operation.

* Despite economic recovery and surprisingly effective planning, administration and management, the Nicaraguan economy remains weak and vulnerable to a war effort. An outbreak of hostilities would force the Nicaraguan authorities to adopt "war communism" methods. This would imply labor conscription, extending government control over private sector activities, and generally would radicalize the Nicaraguan political process.

* Nicaraguan military supplies are sufficient to cope with internal disorders and limited border skirmishes. Nicaraguan involvement in regional hostilities would require expanded supplies and would provide ample opportunities for increased Cuban and Soviet bloc leverage in that country.

* The FSLN has consolidated firm control over government, armed forces, and mass organizations. The size, discipline and morale of regular army and militia units are impressive. Their newly acquired transport and communications equipment would make them serious contenders in any regional conflict.

* Other political and diplomatic factors also deserve our attention. The FSLN and, in general, the Nicaraguan process continue to enjoy broad international support. During their first year in government the Sandinista government has gained influence and legitimacy in international forums notably in the OAS, the UN and the non-aligned movement. The Nicaraguan government and the FSLN have opened diplomatic and party relations in most Soviet bloc countries.

The Nicaraguan leadership remains divided on how to respond in the event of a direct US military intervention in El Salvador or in Guatemala. A moderate wing favors emphasis on diplomatic actions, extending humanitarian support for refugees and opposition forces but avoiding a military engagement that would severely hurt the prospects for economic recovery. The hard liners on the other hand favor full support for the guerrilla forces and, if needed, direct participation of Nicaraguan forces in regional operations.


US policy makers have failed to give adequate consideration to the potential impact of Mexico's policy towards the conflict in El Salvador. Yet Mexico's continuing economic growth, its oil wealth and its internal political stability have sharply increased its prestige, capabilities and willingness to influence developments in the Caribbean basin and Central America.

Analysts in Washington project a continuation of Mexico's rhetorical posturing and downplay recent changes. But current intelligence suggests that Mexico is unusually determined to promote the emergence of stable, progressive and representative governments in Central America capable of asserting their independence from the US and willing to develop friendly and cooperative relations with their powerful northern neighbor. There are two principal reasons for this affirmative policy:

1. Mexico sees with growing concern and displeasure Venezuelan and US involvement in security matters close to its own oil fields.

2. PRI analysts have concluded that the process in El Salvador is irreversible. In their view the best way to influence developments there is to establish early friendly relations with opposition forces and provide political and economic support for the new regime.

The PRI would like to limit the domestic impact of the Central American process