Left wing demonstrators have defied a government state of siege declaration and massed in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador for the funeral of seventeen people killed in clashes with police on Tuesday (22 May).
Left wing demonstrators have defied a government state of siege declaration and massed in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador for the funeral of seventeen people killed in clashes with police on Tuesday (22 May). The government imposed the stage of siege, a measure jus short of martial law on Wednesday (23 May) after the assassination of Education Minister, Carlos Herrera Rebollo. El Salvador has been racked by political violence since early May. Following the seizure of the French and Costa Rican embassies by the Popular Revolutionary Bloc (BPR)... nineteen people were killed and forty wounded in fighting between troops and BPR supporters in front of the capital's Roman Catholic Cathedral. The Bloc's occupation of the Costa Rican embassy has ended but they're still holding the French and Venezuelan embassies. This report looks at the social and economic ills that have contributed to the country's climate of violence.
SYNOPSIS: The Presidential Palace in San Salvador. President Carlos Romero came to power in July, 1977 in disputed elections, pledging social reform, including land distribution.
Success has been limited. Reuters reports that vast amounts of foreign capital have been withdrawn from the country because of economic and political uncertainty.
Imported goods on show in the modern shopping areas of the capital, but few car afford to buy. The country is plagued by social inequality. A University of El Salvador report claims that since the mid-1960's when the country started progressing, the division between rich and poor has become more pronounced.
Although El Salvador's primarily an agricultural country many can't afford food. Eighty per cent of the country's three million peasants suffer from undernourishment. Unemployment is high and many subsist by selling newspapers and trinkets.
El Salvador is known as the land of lakes and volcanoes. It's the smallest and most densely populated state in Central America. Sixty per cent of the land is owned by less than two per cent of the population. Peasants find that the only way they can survive is to work six days for a large landowner and on Sunday work their own plots of land.
President Romero says he accepts the needs for land reform, the breaking up of huge farming estates and redistribution to peasants. Reform programmes in the past have been crushed by the opposition of the country's business sector.
Coffee, cotton and sugar cane plantations dominate agricultural production but the country is now regarded as being reasonably industrialised. According to the University of El Salvador the underlying reason for the present political unrest is that economic expansion has not brought about an improvement in social democracy.
These are the "Tugurios", the slums around San Salvador. Homes for many are shacks of cartons and tin.
Sanitation is poor, public facilities are hopelessly inadequate. Unemployment in the area is over thirty per cent. That such conditions should provoke massive unrest is not surprising. The Popular Revolutionary Block (PBR) as a loose coalition of labour, peasant and students organisations was born only a few years ago but has received strong support in recent weeks.
Under the state of siege declaration by the government constitutional guarantees have been suspended, all demonstrations and political meetings are banned and the army is empowered to search and arrest people without warrant. Nearly one hundred people are reported to have been killed in political violence this month.