El Salvador’s Murder Epidemic and the Paradox of Peacebuilding Success

Christine Wade has a new article on El Salvador’s Murder Epidemic and the Paradox of Peacebuilding Success for the World Politics Review.
Despite all this, by U.N. peacebuilding standards, El Salvador is considered one of the most successful cases. For the U.N., the cessation of conflict is the main criteria for a mission’s success, and approximately one-third of all peace settlements collapse within five years. Moreover, U.N. peacebuilding missions rarely deliver the liberal, democratic governance envisioned by the international community. Christoph Zürcher’s analysis of 19 major peacebuilding operations found that fewer than half resulted in liberal or electoral democracies, and even fewer met basic standards for rule of law or economic development.
Elevated homicide rates are also common in post-conflict societies; El Salvador is hardly alone on that count. Dozens of countries recovering from bloody civil conflicts and wars become trapped between war and peace, dictatorship and democracy. Many Salvadorans have referred to this gray zone as “not war,” though the recent spike in homicides, militarized policing, economic stagnation and mass emigration increasingly make the country look like a war zone. Success in peacebuilding, it seems, is a paradox.
As I mentioned a few months ago, El Salvador's peace accords are generally considered some of the world's most successful to date. They included the transformation of violent actors to political parties (both the FMLN and ARENA), establishment of a civilian police force, the purging of corrupt officials and human rights violators from the old police, military and other criminal justice institutions, the establishment of a truth commission, etc.

However, with each passing day Salvadorans are reminded of the accords' failures. Too many corrupt officials stayed on in the security forces. By the time that they were removed, they had already corrupted the new civilian police force. The right rejected the truth commission's findings and swiftly passed a blanket amnesty. The FMLN has been ambivalent towards the amnesty. For different reasons, both the right and the left accepted marginal changes to the country's economic structures in 1992. Neither the Cristiani nor Calderon Sol government's showed much interested in implementing what had been agreed to. There was more foot dragging than outright rejection but the damage was done.

You can read Christine's new book on “Captured Peace: Elites and Peacebuilding in El Salvador” for the rest of the story. We'll have to wait for the second edition to learn how the FMLN has failed to turn things around.