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Patience Is Dead in El Salvador : Collapse of peace accords has fueled unrest across a wide range of the population

El Salvador is inching once again toward an unmanageable state of affairs. Violence is increasing and the promise of the U.N.-sanctioned peace agreements between the government and guerrillas, signed four years ago, remains beyond reach.

The government, required by the agreements to provide land and housing to former guerrillas and soldiers, has failed to meet its October deadline. One-fourth of the intended recipients have yet to get their land, a U.N. study shows. This failure has forged an anti-government marriage of convenience between army veterans of the 1980s civil war and their old guerrilla enemies, with both factions angered by the prolonged wait. The rural housing programs for war refugees are even further behind schedule.

In a country that has run out of patience, these delays have generated loud marches in San Salvador, the capital, and many protests have led to violent confrontations with the police.

The war veterans are not alone in taking their anger to the streets. Government bureaucrats from a number of agencies and even doctors from public hospitals have marched to demonstrate their complaints. More grim, there has been a resurgence of political death squad activity and “social cleansing” of young gang members and the poor from San Salvador’s streets. This brutal repression is being attributed to members of the new civilian police department, staffed half by former soldiers and half by ex-guerrillas. In addition, more than 4,000 Salvadoran youths deported from Los Angeles are destabilizing neighborhoods through gang activities.

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Meanwhile, U.S. aid to El Salvador has diminished dramatically. During the 1980s, U.S. support for the embattled government at times reached $1.5 million a day, and over 12 years it totaled roughly $4 billion. In 1996, U.S. aid will be just $43 million, not nearly enough to achieve the promise of the American-engineered peace.

In the war, this little county suffered about 75,000 casualties. Later, in a still-dangerous peace, 500,000 fled to safety abroad, mainly to the United States. The military confrontation evolved into an economic crisis that has proved to be unending.

The United Nations should push for the immediate completion of the peace agreements. Obviously the El Salvador government will argue it is doing its best but has no more money. That is not good enough. The government has the responsibility to solve this problem while there is still time to do it.


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